Obama In Brussels For G-7 Meeting

Conspicuously absent from the get-together is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was scratched from the guest list as punishment for Russia's interference in Ukraine.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama met in Brussels today with other world leaders - some of them anyway. Conspicuously absent was Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was disinvited as punishment for Russia's interference in Ukraine. Leaders warned that after today's meeting, Russia could face additional penalties if the situation in Ukraine does not improve. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president, joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So another one of those situations where everybody talks about the person who's not in the room. I gather they were talking about Putin, and did they also talk about Ukraine?

HORSLEY: They did. The very first paragraph in the statement from the now G-7 - that's the old G-8 minus Russia - welcome the election of Petro Poroshenko as the new president of Ukraine. He's due to be sworn in on Saturday. And President Obama said today that's an opportunity for the various players to change direction and defuse the Ukrainian crisis.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Russia needs to seize that opportunity. Russia needs to recognize the President-elect Poroshenko is the legitimately elected leader of Ukraine and engage the government in Kiev.

HORSLEY: Obama himself met with Poroshenko yesterday. And afterwards, he spoke admiringly of the new president-elect's capacity to help unify his fractured country.

INSKEEP: Well, fractured would be the word wouldn't it, because Eastern Ukraine remains unstable and of course Russia still control Crimea, which everybody else in the world argues is still part of Ukraine. How are the G-7 leaders addressing that?

HORSLEY: Well, in their statement, the leaders condemned Russia's ongoing interference in Ukraine and said that has to stop. And they held out the threat of additional economic sanctions if certain conditions aren't met. Now, the statement didn't spell out what those conditions are, but British Prime Minister David Cameron did. He said Russia needs to stop the flow of arms across its border into Ukraine and halt support for pro-Russian separatists who've been fighting in the eastern part of the country. President Obama added that the international community can't afford to wait three or four months with more violence in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: We will have a chance to see what Mr. Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks. And if he remains on the current course, then we've already indicated the kinds of actions that we're prepared to take.

HORSLEY: That would mean economic sanctions targeting whole sectors of the Russian economy. Now, no one's particularly eager for that because it would cause pain in Europe as well, but Obama says it would be harder on Russia.

INSKEEP: I wonder if that potential pain is why European leaders, some of them, are willing to meet with Vladimir Putin after all.

HORSLEY: Well, that's right. Of course the attempt here was to isolate Putin by disinviting him from the G-8, now G-7. But he is meeting privately with leaders of France, Britain and Germany. They're all going to be in France tomorrow, along with President Obama for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. White House aides are shrugging off those private meetings though, saying the question's not whether other leaders meet with Putin, but the message that they deliver in those meetings. And Obama says the leaders are in lockstep here with a unified message.

INSKEEP: Yeah, the president was being asked about this controversy and went on to there. Let me just ask you about one other thing, we have a few seconds left here, Scott Horsley, having to do with this America POW, Bowe Bergdahl, who was released in a prisoner exchange on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president's been criticized for how he handled that, whether he notified Congress, when he notified Congress. Any second guessing in a few seconds here?

HORSLEY: No, the president made no apologizes, either for the prisoner swap or the way it was announced with the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's parents at his side. He said it was important to show the country that this was not an abstraction. You had a couple of parents here who hadn't seen their son in five years and weren't sure if they were ever going to see him again.

INSKEEP: OK, a lot of news from NPR's Scott Horsley, traveling with the president. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Steve.

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