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President Obama and other leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations wrap up their two-day summit meeting today in Northern Ireland. They reached some agreement on shoring up the global economy, not so much when it comes to the civil war in Syria. Russia is one of the Group of Eight and although President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, they did not agree on what to do about the Syrian situation.
NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He's on the line to talk about this and more. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So how hard did they try to agree, Russia and the United States, when it comes to Syria?
HORSLEY: Well, President Obama and President Putin met for longer than expected yesterday. They did have a lot to talk about, but you know, they just lined up on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Russia has long supported the Syrian regime, while the Obama administration has been insisting for some time now that Bashar al-Assad has to go. The two leaders acknowledged after their sit-down that they still have what Obama called different perspectives on Syria.
Here's President Putin speaking through an interpreter.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through Translator) Of course our visions do not coincide but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims, and to solve the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiating table in Geneva. We agreed to push the parties to the negotiations table.
HORSLEY: Of course of course Assad's forces have been winning on the battlefield lately with help from Hezbollah. So there's not a lot of incentive for the Syrian leader to come to the bargaining table, especially if the U.S. expects him to negotiate his own exit.
INSKEEP: Which means the fighting goes on.
HORSLEY: Yeah, and with no end in sight. Obama announced last night the U.S. will contribute another $300 million in humanitarian aid to assist refugees affected by all that fighting. Some of that money is going to be spent inside Syria. The balance will go to neighboring countries, like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, which have taken in a lot of refugees as this conflict spills over Syria's borders.
This latest contribution announced last night is on top of the $500 million the United States had already pledged to provide food, shelter and medical help. And a call has also gone out to the U.N. for additional assistance.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Scott Horsley. He's at the summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrial nations. Of course the economy is a major topic always when these countries meet. And what agreements have they come to there, Scott?
HORSLEY: Well, just as the G-8 got underway yesterday, Obama joined the British prime minister, David Cameron - he's the host of this summit - as well as a couple of European Union leaders in formally launching talks aimed at coming up with a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. This has been a big priority for Prime Minister Cameron, who sees boosting exports as one way to revive his country's economy. The U.K. economy is moving just above stall speed right now. And, of course, exports are also a priority for Obama.
That said, both leaders acknowledge it will not be easy to lower the trade barriers between the U.S. and Europe. We're talking for the most part here not about tariffs, which you can sort of just negotiate, but about really central policy decisions. Buy-American requirements in some U.S. government programs, for example; European limits on genetically modified foods.
So there're some really big hurdles to overcome. But the leaders are going to make a start at it. The first round of talks is going to come in Washington next month.
INSKEEP: Scott, you're on the edge of a continent there, just off shore of a continent where the economy is a mess. And there's been a philosophical difference about how to approach this, whether the thing to do is to deal with Europe's debt crisis through austerity, through cutting back, or through trying to find ways to manage economic growth. Is there any agreement on that?
HORSLEY: This is a familiar debate for us in the United States as well, of course. The pendulum has moved a little bit. A communique from the G-8 leaders about their economic meetings says promoting growth and jobs is our top priority. That's as opposed to deficit reduction. So there has been some movement on that score, but it's not uniform. Germany is still hawkish when it comes to deficits. That's where Obama heads next; he's going to be meeting privately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow. And he's going to give another high-profile speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Steve.
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