Obama Visit Underscores America's European Ties

President Obama meets with Poland's prime minister and other Eastern European leaders on Saturday before closing his weeklong trip to Europe with a press conference in Warsaw. NPR's Scott Horsley looks back at the president's trip.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama wraps up his weeklong trip to Europe today. He's just concluded a news conference with Poland's Prime Minister, after a dinner last night with a group of Eastern European leaders. The meetings in Warsaw capped a tour that brought Mr. Obama face-to-face with prime ministers, foreign leaders, Irish locals and the Queen of England. His agenda ranged for exploring his Irish roots to talking about America's shared roots with Western Europe.

NPR's Scott Horsley has been traveling with the President and joins us from Warsaw. Scott, thanks for being with us.

SCOTT HORSLEY: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: This is Mr. Obama's first trip to Poland. Did he bring a message?

HORSLEY: He did, Scott. One part of his message is about Polish security. He wanted to reaffirm that America is committed to protecting Poland, just as it would be to protecting any other NATO ally. There had been some concerns about that here after the U.S. adjusted its plans to base missile defense facilities in Poland back in 2009.

Today, in a somewhat symbolic gesture, the White House announced plans to station a contingent of Air Force personnel in Poland.

The second part of the president's message here is to highlight the success of Poland and other former East Bloc countries in making the transition to democracy.

President BARACK OBAMA: One of the important roles that Poland can play is not just as a promoter of ideas but as a living example of what is possible when countries take reform seriously.

HORSLEY: Democracy activists from Poland are already sharing their experience with would-be reformers in the Middle East. And Mr. Obama wants to encourage that.

SIMON: Yeah. And indicated that he's willing to put some American money into that effort too, right, not just words?

HORSLEY: That's right. One of the key ideas that the president put forward in his Middle East speech in Washington last week is that political reform in the Middle East has to be accompanied by economic reform. So, Egyptians or Tunisians, for example, have more job opportunities and a better standard of living.

White House aides say historically democratic movements are most successful when they deliver a tangible economic payoff to the people. So, President Obama has pledged several billion dollars in U.S. aid to help in that process. And at the G-8 Summit in France this week, he urged other big economies to do the same. Members of the G-8 were generally receptive to that idea but I should say, Scott, so far any actual pledges of financial support have been fairly limited

SIMON: There was, of course, a lot of attention to the president's speech to the British parliament. There had been some skepticism during the early part of his administration as to whether President Obama was as committed to the special relationship with Britain and Europe as some of his predecessors. What did this speech do to affect that?

HORSLEY: Yeah, that's really been a big message for this whole trip, is that as far as the president is concerned, Europe still matters. It still has a very big role to play on the world stage. And he underscored that in his speech to the British parliament earlier in the week. He was speaking in the historic Westminster Hall. It was a very formal setting. He was interrupted just once by applause. That was when he talked about his Kenyan grandfather who worked as a cook for the British army.

The story about his grandfather was meant to illustrate the tremendous freedom and opportunity in the U.S. and in Britain. And he says that Europe has a huge role to play in promoting that kind of opportunity around the world.

SIMON: A couple of human notes: the president presented himself to Poles today as one of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Yes. Well, the Polish prime minister had said he felt like Mr. Obama was one of them, and Mr. Obama said, well, if you're from Chicago and you're not a little bit Polish there must be something wrong with you. Of course, he began this trip tracing his Irish roots, so I guess he sort of rounded it out at the end here.

SIMON: He said he was looking for the apostrophe in Obama. Did he find it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: I think I saw that apostrophe on a T-shirt in Moneygall, his great-great-great-grandfather's home.

SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the president. Thanks for being with us.

HORSLEY: It's my pleasure, Scott.

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