Earthquake Ravaged Town Hosts G-8 Summit

The leaders of the G-8 nations are staying in the historic mountain town of L'Aquila, which was devastated by a major earthquake three months ago. President Obama and his host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, toured the town on the first day of the economic summit.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In between meetings, President Obama took a tour of the town that's hosting the summit. Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, led the president along streets devastated by an earthquake just three months ago.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from L'Aquila.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The style of the summit is very sober. In fact, President Obama and fellow leaders are staying in modest lodgings, the renovated barracks on the sprawling compound of a military academy. In between talking sessions, Berlusconi escorted the president to some monuments severely damaged by the April 6 earthquake that killed 300 people and left 65,000 homeless.

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POGGIOLI: Jacketless, his shirt sleeves rolled up, the president walked through the narrow streets of L'Aquila's devastated historic center, a zone declared completely off limits to all its residents. Surrounded by an intense security cordon, he stopped in front of the shattered church of the Anime Sante whose copula had disintegrated into rubble. He shook his head in a gesture of disbelief.

The president spoke with local residents and listened attentively to Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's Civil Protection Department who briefed him on the challenges of reconstruction. The president had special words for recovery workers.

President BARACK OBAMA: The firefighters of the United States, they're very proud of you, you know because they saw what a great job you did on television.

POGGIOLI: Italian officials made no secret that the decision to switch the G-8 from a luxury seaside venue to this quake-hit region was inspired in part by the hope that world leaders will help restore the region's artistic treasures. In his meeting earlier with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, President Obama made clear that the U.S. will do its part.

President BARACK OBAMA: Along with the National Italian American Foundation, are the identified projects to help rebuild facilities at the University of L'Aquila and to provide scholarships and summer programs. And so that's a nice concrete affirmation of the extraordinary friendship between the Italian people and the United States.

POGGIOLI: One of the top items on the first day agenda was the world economy. While Germany, worried about inflation, has been pressing for pending restraint, the G-8 leaders agreed in a joint declaration that the global economy is still too unstable to begin rolling back large stimulus packages. President Obama's economic adviser Michael Froman told reporters the leaders said it's time now to begin preparing for the next stage.

Mr. MICHAEL FROMAN (Economic Advisor to the president): We all agree that we need to return to fiscal sustainability in the midterm. And with regard to specifics - the specific question about exit strategies, the people said it's time to prepare exit strategies, but not necessarily to put them into place yet.

POGGIOLI: Froman was asked if the declaration went beyond what was decided at the London G-20 meeting in March.

Mr. FROMAN: We view this meeting and this discussion as a midpoint between the London G-20 summit and the Pittsburgh G-20 summit, and an opportunity for the leaders to get together and review where we were with regard to the recovery and what further steps need to be taken and to share their perspectives on next steps.

POGGIOLI: The first day ended with a series of declarations in which the G-8 leaders deplored the violence in Iran's disputed election last month, but added that they are still committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions. They also condemn the declarations of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denying the holocaust. And in what they called the strongest terms, they condemn North Korea's nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches in defiance of UN resolutions, and they urged Afghanistan to ensure credible elections next month.

At the evening dinner, President Obama announced he plans to hold a nuclear security summit in Washington in March, because he believes nuclear terrorism is the most immediate threat to global security.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, L'Aquila.

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