Is North Korea Overshadowing Obama's Trip?

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President Obama is in Turkey as part of his first overseas trip since taking office in January. Has North Korea's rocket launch overshadowed his trip?


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, filling in for Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today, the president is in Turkey. President Obama has been on a tour through Europe and today he's in a mostly Muslim nation. That Turkey is included in the president's first overseas trip is a recognition of its importance as an ally and also of its alienation from the U.S. since the invasion of neighboring Iraq. NPR's Cokie Roberts joins us now to talk about the president's trip which, beginning with the G-20 Summit in London last week, has been at least a public relation success. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You know, after all the meetings and photo-ops at the G-20 Summit, and also while the president is still in Europe, the big news this morning took place far away from there - the rocket launch from North Korea.

ROBERTS: The launch of the North Korean rocket overshadowed the end of that summit, really completely, and I think that's something that the administration did not anticipate or clearly, want. Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that this is basically a station identification on the part of the North Koreans - in other words, we're here, pay attention to us. The president turned the rocket launch into an opportunity to call for the United States' ratification of a comprehensive test ban treaty, which is something Congress has never gone along with, and to say that he would convene a summit in Washington to stop the spread of nuclear material.

But in the middle of this triumphant tour of Europe, particularly - for him, but particularly for the first lady - to have to stop and deal with the North Koreans, an always intractable country, is clearly not something that the president had in mind. After all, he was getting huge crowds and gushing press coverage, and that would have been the note that he would have liked to have left on.

MONTAGNE: Well, another pretty serious issue that he was dealing with, and expected to deal with there, was Afghanistan. After all, he wasn't just at the G-20 Summit, he also was at a NATO gathering. Can he point to tangible accomplishments along those lines?

ROBERTS: Not really. He had NATO support in theory but not in fact, no real combat troops coming from the NATO countries. Now, he can try again in Turkey, which is a key NATO member and, as you said, he is there today. But what is happening is Afghanistan is becoming - or if it has not already become - an American war. And what you are beginning to see, just, you know, little glimmers of, is some disagreement with President Obama on his left here in this country.

You're beginning to see criticism from people who had supported him initially, mainly because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. And they assumed, many of them, apparently, that that would also mean that it would not have this kind of commitment of American troops abroad. And it's very likely that there are more troops headed to Afghanistan, and that is going to be troublesome for the president.

MONTAGNE: Well, while this has all being going on overseas, people in this country are focused on the economy. Looking ahead this week, what are we looking at here?

ROBERTS: Well, we continue to look at Congress dealing with the economy, although they're away for the Easter and Passover holidays. But the firing of General Motors' chief executive officer last Sunday night is really something that's taken the country somewhat by surprise. And I think the key indicator of that is the "Saturday Night Live" skit this past Saturday, where the Obama character was going through a list of American companies, you know - all right, you make the cut, you don't - giving some sense that he is in charge of the entire economy. And that is something, again, that he is going to have to be dealing with.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts. She is also the author of "We Are Our Mothers' Daughters." That newly expanded book now includes the story of Laura Bush's campaign for human rights; Billie Jean King's campaign for respect on the tennis court; and the chancellor of Washington, D.C.'s public schools, Michelle Rhee's, campaign to turn them around.

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