G8 Summit To Discuss Economy, Arab Uprising

President Obama is in France for the G8 summit in Deauville. The annual summit of the world's major industrial nations will include discussions about shoring up democracy in the Arab world, and dealing with the financial crisis in Europe.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host: TEXT: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

President Obama crossed the English Channel to France this morning, to attend the G8 Summit meeting. Leaders from most of the worlds biggest economies are gathering there. They're talking about the recovery effort in Japan, in the wake of the tsunami and earthquake in March.

And they're also discussing steps to encourage democratic reforms across the Middle East.

NPRs Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He joins us from the summit site at the resort city of Deauville on France's Normandy coast.

Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good morning, Mary Louise. Good to be with you.

KELLY: Good to be with you, too. So the Obama administration, as we mentioned, is focused on the Middle East. They've been urging leaders of the other countries, there, to provide financial support for Egypt and Tunisia at this meeting. What's his argument?

HORSLEY: That's right, Mary Louise. You remember when he gave his big Middle East speech last week, President Obama said the popular uprisings in those countries are only partly about politics, they're also a sign of frustration with the lack of economic opportunity. The president pledged, on behalf of the U.S., several billion dollars worth of debt relief and loan guarantees for Egypt and Tunisia. And the U.S. is urging other G8 allies to do the same. He thinks that it can support the fledgling democracies in the Middle East, by addressing those economic woes. Mr. Obama got a powerful second for that idea, yesterday, when he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron called the Arab Spring, a once in a generation opportunity for world leaders to grab hold of.

Prime MINISTER DAVID CAMERON (United Kingdom): It is not a time for us to shrink back and think about our own issues and interests. This is our issue and this is massively in our interests. Those people in Tahrir Square and Tripoli just want what we have, a job and a voice. And we all share in their success or failure.

HORSLEY: President Obama has likened this proposed assistance to the aid provided to former East Bloc countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There is some question, though, about just how generous the G8 countries are willing or able to be when many are wrestling economic challenges at home.

KELLY: And you mentioned the president sat down with Prime Minister Cameron yesterday, that was in London. He's also holding one-on-one talks with leaders, today, on the sidelines of the summit in France. Who has he been talking to.

HORSLEY: Well, he just wrapped up a meeting, not long ago, with Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev. The two leaders talked a lot about missile defense. That, you may remember, was sort of a stumbling block when they were negotiatiing the new START treaty. And even after that treaty has now been signed and ratified, missile defense continues to be a concern for the Russians, in particular, they're worried that U.S. efforts to build a missile defense which is really targeted at, maybe, rogue missiles from someplace like Iran could be used, maybe in the future, to destabilize Russia's strategic arsenal. So, they're very concerned about that.

The president tried President Obama tried to provide some assurances there. They also talked about Russia's effort to join the WTO, that's something Russia's been pursuing for a long time. And aids say that they're very close, there's still some technical issues to work out, but the U.S. believes there's nothing fundamental blocking Russia from joining WTO later this year.

KELLY: Big picture, Scott. Give us some context in terms of how important this summit is for the U.S.? This is the G8 which has been overshadowed a bit, in recent years, by the larger group of countries, the G20.

HORSLEY: That's right. President Obama has put a lot of his eggs in the basket of the G20. He feels like, if you're going to tackle big problems around the world, you need to have a more inclusive group of countries at the table, including newcomers like China or India. But members of the G8, the old guard, sort of jealously protect their position in that more exclusive club. And so French President Sarkozy wanted to have a standalone summit, here in France, for the G8.

In a way, this is another opportunity for President Obama to say, as he's been saying all week, that America's old European allies are still very important, even as he tries to build ties with newcomers around the globe.

KELLY: OK, thanks very much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, speaking with us from France. He's traveling with the president on his European tour. And the next stop, tomorrow, will be Poland.

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