Obama Gets Down To Business Before G-20

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President Obama will be holding face-to-face talks with the leaders of several nations as he readies for the G-20 summit in London. Obama first meets with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.


Now let's go to London, where President Obama is warning against what he calls stale debate and false divides - as world leaders gather in the British capital to address the global economic crisis.

President BARACK OBAMA: Make no mistake, we are facing the most severe economic crisis since World War II. And the global economy is now so fundamentally interconnected that we can only meet this challenge together.

MONTAGNE: The president spoke on the eve of a summit of the world's 20 leading economies. NPR's White House correspondent, Don Gonyea, is traveling with the president and joins us live from London. Hello Don.

DON GONYEA: Hi, Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Good morning. The president has been speaking at a news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is hosting the G-20 summit. Is that Mr. Obama's basic message, we're in this together?

GONYEA: If you boil it down, that is the essence of his message. Basically at the sessions he has with individual leaders and with the broader G-20 leaders over the next two days, he will stress that aggressive government actions are needed - that includes economic stimulus policies on the part of individual nations; that global regulations are needed on banking and hedge funds; and that protectionism is not the answer, that would only make things worse. And he will also say - I mean it will be a recurring theme - that while it's not known how long this economic crisis will last or how much worse it will get, the one thing that we do know is it will only get worse if the nation's represented here, that make up about 85 percent of the world's total economy, if they don't find some way to work together.

MONTAGNE: And at this morning's news conference, the president was asked whether the economic crisis may be a sign of shrinking American power and prestige. He said those contentions had been made before and then he said this.

President BARACK OBAMA: Somehow it hasn't worked out that way, because I think that there is a vibrancy to our economic model, a durability to our political model, and a set of ideals that has sustained us through even the most difficult times.

MONTAGNE: Don, we all saw those ecstatic crowds that greeted Mr. Obama when he went to Europe during the campaign. What about now, as president, how might he be greeted?

GONYEA: He remains very popular over here. He's popular around the world. He's popular back in the U.S. It's night and day when you compare the greeting he gets to what President Bush got over the course of his two terms. And Mr. Obama is clearly the news of this summit. It's his first big moment on an international stage. It's the new young American leader.

But other leaders here aren't expected to roll over just because he happens to be popular. They'll be taking the measure of him, they'll pushing their own agendas very aggressively - at a time when many do see America as being in a vulnerable position.

MONTAGNE: And there certainly has been heated debate and lots of comments from other world leaders leading up to this summit, about what's needed to fix the global economy and whether the emphasis should be put on stimulus measures or regulation, or what. Let's listen to what the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, had to say on the subject of regulations.

Mr. GORDON BROWN (Prime Minister, Great Britain): The speed and scale of global economic change has overwhelmed the national systems of rules and regulations. So, our first test is to agree tougher and more transparent supervision of banks, hedge funds and what is known as the global shadow banking system. We are both agreed there will be no sustainable recovery until the banks are cleaned up and a new regulatory system is put in place.

MONTAGNE: So, how might these ideas be played out in the meetings to come?

GONYEA: Well, it's interesting, what we just heard from Prime Minister Brown echoes what we've heard from President Obama on this very topic. But there are differences that are going to be on display at these meetings. President Sarkozy of France has suggested that he may leave the G-20 Summit, he may walk out, if the regulations that are talked about and eventually agreed upon are not tough enough.

We also have disagreements over the size of the economic stimulus package. The president, again, has been pushing for very aggressive stimulus on the part of the various governments. But what President Obama said today is, you know, these summits can be kind of boring - sitting and watching a bunch of heads of state sit around talking around the table. And then the communiqu├ęs are always written in a legalese, boring language. He said that means people are going to focus on the differences, but these countries really do have much more in common.

MONTAGNE: And, Don, of course, it wouldn't be a gathering of world leaders without protests. What are you seeing so far?

GONYEA: We are going to see big ones it looks like. It's being dubbed - because it's April Fool's Day - it's being dubbed Financial Fool's Day - protests not targeted toward President Obama, but just what these leaders, these economic countries, have done with the economy.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea. He joined us from London where President Obama is holding high-level meetings ahead of the G-20 Summit.

(Soundbite of music)


And maybe a little more on the relationship between the United States and China. We knew that President Obama met with China's president in London today, and now we know they will meet again. President Obama accepted President Hu Jintao's invitation to visit China later this year. He will, in a sense, be visiting the bank. China has bought immense amounts of U.S. Treasury Bonds and some Chinese officials have recently raised questions about the safety of their investment.

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