G20 Gets Underway As Obamas Meet With The Queen
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up in our International Briefing, a conversation with Canada's best-kept secrets - down here, anyway. That's Governor General Michaelle Jean. But first to London, where President Obama is among the leaders attending the G-20 Summit. That's a meeting of the leaders of the world's big industrial economies and emerging market nations. They're trying to hammer out strategies to fight the global recession.
Joining us now to talk about how the president is being received, and even more important, how his administration's ideas are being received, is NPR's John Ydstie. He's covering the summit. He's here with us at the White House Filing Center in London. John, thanks for joining us.
JOHN YDSTIE: You're welcome, Michel.
MARTIN: In advance of the president's trip overseas, there was a lot of criticism of the administration's ideas for getting the world out of the recession. Has any of that criticism softened since he's actually been there?
YDSTIE: Well, you know, the big fight was over whether or not there should be added stimulus, and the Obama administration was calling for countries around the world to spend additional money to get their economies going and try to get the global economy going again. That was met with opposition from continental Europeans who felt like the focus ought to be on reforming unfettered capitalism. And, in fact, French President Sarkozy tried to walk out of the talks if the focus wasn't on this reform and regulation of the global economy. Yesterday, he and Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, had a very interesting press conference.
And at the press conference, Ms. Merkel said this is a historic opportunity to give capitalism a conscience, because capitalism has lost its conscience and we have to seize the opportunity. You know, and I think actually they have managed to sort of gain the upper hand here. The specific reforms we're talking about have to deal with regulating hedge funds and tax havens and guidelines on compensation for executives and that sort of thing.
It's stuff, actually, that the Obama administration has proposed as well, but the goal that President Obama had had here was to try to increase stimulus, not focus on regulation. That could come later. He suggested after the economy was going again.
MARTIN: How is the president being personally received? Do you have any sense of that?
YDSTIE: Oh, he's being wonderfully received. The British population is fascinated by him. The rest of the leaders clearly want to engage him, and Michelle Obama has made a big hit as well, walking around - or rather, touring with Sarah Brown, Prime Minister Brown's wife here. She was at a cancer treatment center the other day and had tea with some of the patients, and afterward they all just said she's just a regular person, and such a lovely, lovely person who seemed so interested in us.
And Mrs. Obama went to visit the queen yesterday, and all the tabloids were filled with reports this morning that he had handed her an iPod filled with music as a present. So it'll be interesting to see whether the Queen has ear buds hanging out of her ears in any…
(Soundbite of laughter)
YDSTIE: …future photographs then. And I bet Apple would like that.
MARTIN: But we are also seeing quite a lot of pictures from some very dramatic street protests in London. What are those protests about?
YDSTIE: Yes. There was protest in downtown London, in the city of London, which is the financial district in London yesterday, where police and then some protesters clashed and it got violent and photographs of (unintelligible) I'm sure, and the images were quite upsetting. The protesters were calling for an end to capitalism. I don't think the leaders are going to end capitalism. They might regulate and reform it, but they're not going to end it. But that's what the protesters were calling for, and at one point, they managed to break into the Royal Bank of Scotland - which is next to the Bank of England, the central bank for the UK - and did some damage there.
And there were certainly some people who were injured. About 5,000 people, I guess, were involved in that. There are some other protests scheduled today. I think there's one going on outside the ExCel Centre, where the leaders are meeting, that is a relatively small protest. Again, there's supposed to be some demonstrations downtown again outside the stock exchange here. Up to now, no reports of violence there.
MARTIN: Finally, John, I want you to ask: One of the interesting things about these internal meetings, which often are about discussing the economy and poverty and things of that sort, is that they're quite lavish, as events. I mean, there's a lot of food, and there are a lot of ceremonial events. Has the recession, has the subject at hand changed the style of this meeting in any way from past meetings? Does it feel like it's a global - does it feel like a meeting being held in the middle of a recession?
YDSTIE: Well, certainly it's an elaborate event. There are so many people here, so many leaders, so many delegations and press and so forth. So it's a big event. But I would say its relative spare, no huge ceremonies. There was a dinner last night, and they ate well, I'm sure, Scottish salmon and Welsh lamb, but no caviar on the menu as far as I know. And no champagne toasts for the cameras or anything like that. The leaders showed up at the center this morning, were personally greeted by Prime Minister Brown as they went in. But I would say it's relatively subdued, and the leaders are trying to keep the focus on the issues.
MARTIN: NPR's John Ydstie. He's joining us from London, from the traveling White House Press Filing Center, where he's covering the G-20 meeting. John, thank you so much.
YDSTIE: You're welcome, Michel.