Irish Welcome Home Starts Obama's Europe Trip

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President Obama leaves Sunday night on a week-long trip to Europe. He'll visit with the Queen of England, attend a G-8 summit meeting in France and sit down with a group of central European leaders in Poland. Host Liane Hansen and NPR's Scott Horsely look ahead to Obama's trip to Europe.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

President Barack Obama leaves tonight on a weeklong trip to Europe. He'll visit with the Queen of England, attend a G-8 summit meeting in France and sit down with a group of central Europeans leaders in Poland.

NPR's Scott Horsley will be traveling with the president and he joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Liane.

HANSEN: The first stop on this trip is Ireland and the president announced it, suitably enough, on St. Patrick's Day.

HORSLEY: That's right. He's actually had a standing invitation to come to Ireland but it was just on St. Patrick's Day he was meeting in the Oval Office with the Taoiseach, or the prime minister of Ireland, when he said he would be going.

And Mr. Obama said he didn't want to just visit Dublin and sort of the usual tourist sites. He also wanted to go to the tiny village of Moneygall. That is the home of President Obama's great-great-great-grandfather on his mother's side. And the Taoiseach says Ireland is anxious to give Cade Milli falcha(ph), or a hundred thousand welcomes, to its new favorite son.

Prime Minister ENDA KENNY (Ireland): There is no one as Irish as Barack Obama.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KENNY: And may I say, sir, Mr. President, they are cueing up in their thousands to tell you that in Moneygall.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: And, Liane, I'm told that's true. The whole town has been repainted in anticipation of the president's visit.

HANSEN: Repainted? Well, from Ireland, President Obama travels to England. He didn't go to the royal wedding but I bet he's going to get plenty of ruffles and flourishes.

HORSLEY: He certainly will, yes. He's going to be attending a state dinner at Buckingham Palace, actually spending the night in the palace. And then he's going to host a dinner for the queen at the ambassador's residence. But it won't all be just ceremony while he's in England. He's also going to be meeting with Britain's prime minister and delivering a speech to Parliament.

His aides here say that will really be sort of the keynote of this weeklong European trip. He'll be stressing the indispensable role that Europe needs to play in addressing global challenges, whether it's the war in Afghanistan or the dramatic changes that we're seeing in the Middle East.

HANSEN: Europe hasn't always had that kind of love from the Obama administration.

HORSLEY: That's right. The president is still personally very popular in Europe, more so than some of the European leaders. But, you know, there were an awful lot of high hopes when he came into office. And as in this country, some folks feel disappointed that those hopes have not been realized in full.

There's also been a sense that as the president has tried to open new doors across the Pacific - I mean, he's made much of his role as the first Pacific president in doing outreach to Asia - there's been a sense in Europe that Mr. Obama has sometime neglected his old allies across the Atlantic.

So, part of his mission is to say to Europe: This continent still matters to the United States, not only as a big trading partner but as a military ally, and as countries that share the United States' democratic values - the same values that he was talking about this past week that he hopes to help spread in North Africa and the Middle East.

HANSEN: Well, the changes in the Middle East are some of the biggest since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And Mr. Obama is going to end this trip meeting with leaders who've come out from behind the iron curtain.

HORSLEY: That's right. The last stop on the trip is in Warsaw, Poland. You'll remember the president was supposed to visit Poland last year for the funeral of the Polish president who was killed in that tragic airplane crash, and he was not able to go because of the Icelandic volcano. The ash from that kept even Air Force One on the ground. So, this is, in some ways, a makeup.

It's also a chance for the president to provide sort of military reassurance to some of the newer members of NATO that the United States is very much committed to their security in the world. And it's also an opportunity to highlight how those newly democratized countries in central and eastern Europe can be a model for the kind of peaceful transition and change that he's hoping to see in the Middle East.

HANSEN: NPR's Scott Horsley. Safe trip, Scott.

HORSLEY: Thank you, Liane.

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