NATO Summit Backdrop To Obama/GOP Squabble

In some ways, President Obama went to Europe to have a fight with Congressional Republicans in Washington, who are trying to block an international arms treaty with Russia. Even the press corps got caught in the middle of the fight.

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In some ways, President Obama went to Europe to fight with congressional Republicans in Washington. Republicans are trying to block an international arms treaty with Russia that the President considers vital. Reporters, because it's their job, were caught in the middle.

NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro has this reporter's notebook.

ARI SHAPIRO: When the Afghanistan meeting ended at the NATO summit Saturday morning, everybody showed up to get a background briefing from a senior administration official about what had been accomplished. Just as the briefing was wrapping up, a group of important-looking people in suits filed into the back of the room. A White House press aid took the podium and said, we have some of our European colleagues here who wanted to come and speak to you, then the Europeans gathered around the microphone and introduced themselves.

Mr. JONAS STOERE (Foreign Minister, Norway): I'm Jonas Stoere, foreign minister of Norway.

Mr. GIRTS VALDIS KRISTOVSKIS (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Latvia): My name is Girts Valdis Kristovskis. I am minister of foreign affairs from Latvia.

Mr. NICKOLAY MLADENOV (Foreign Minister, Bulgaria): Hi. My name is Nickolay Mladenov. I'm the Bulgarian foreign minister.

Mr. JANOS MARTONYI (Foreign Minister, Hungary): My name is Janos Martonyi. I'm the foreign minister of Hungary.

SHAPIRO: And several more. They all wanted to deliver the same message to the White House press corps. As Bulgaria's foreign minister put it:

Mr. MLADENOV: So, all I can say is, don't stop START before it's started.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: START is a nuclear weapons agreement with Russia that President Obama has been pushing hard at home. He wants Congress to pass it during the lame duck session, but Republicans are trying to block it. Mr. Obama devoted his Saturday video address to the subject.

President BARACK OBAMA: If the Senate doesn't act this year, after six months, 18 hearings, and nearly a thousand questions answered, it would have to start over from scratch in January.

SHAPIRO: Back in Lisbon, the press corps had been getting a steady supply of emails from the White House about foreign officials at the NATO summit who support the START treaty. Now, some of those officials had decided to show up unannounced and make their case in person.

The first question from a reporter was the one on everybody's mind:

Unidentified Woman (Reporter): Did the Obama administration solicit your expressions of concern or did you just get together on your own and decide you wanted to say this?

SHAPIRO: The only woman in the group, Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, said it was her idea.

Ms. LENE ESPERSEN (Foreign Minister, Denmark): I can tell you besides being minister for foreign affairs, I'm also chairman of the conservative party in Denmark, which is the sister party of the Republican Party, so nobody will ever accuse me of being soft on security.

SHAPIRO: Hungary's mustachioed foreign minister stepped up and added:

Mr. MARTONYI: There is a lady behind, as usually, a blonde lady, but this time this is Lene and not another one. So, a Hungarian would never refuse a request made by a lady. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: A few hours later, President Obama boarded Air Force One and returned to Washington to continue the fight on his home turf.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Lisbon.

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