Page last updated at 09:18 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 10:18 UK

Obama's hard trip to Europe

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

Barack Obama
Expectations of Mr Obama are high ahead of the visit

US President Barack Obama's visit to Europe is all about leadership - the expectations and perhaps the limitations of it as he seeks to fashion a new American role in the post-Bush era.

There are no real answers yet but the questions he faces are what kind of leadership he can offer and what kind of co-operation he will receive.

The new president might find that his honeymoon with Europe is about to bump up against the realities of day-to-day life.

He will be met with good will, particularly by those peoples and governments firmly opposed to the policies of his predecessor.

He has pleased them by not being George W Bush, by announcing the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention centre within a year and by putting an end to practices amounting, in the view of many, to torture by the CIA.

He also plans to withdraw most of his troops from Iraq and has promised co-operation on measures against global warming. He is hoping to lead the world out of recession.

Fragmented Europe

Mr Obama's diplomacy is, for the moment at least, that of the extended hand.

G20 march in London
World leaders are to meet in London to discuss measures to tackle the downturn. See our in-depth guide to the G20 summit.
The G20 countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the US and the EU.

But he comes over at a time of economic crisis, of divisions within Nato about Afghanistan and amid expectations as to how he will address the Muslim world during a visit to Turkey which will follow his attendance at economic, Nato and EU summits.

He will also find a fragmented Europe, by no means agreed on how to weather the financial storm, and maybe facing a long-term relative economic eclipse.

Many people around the world might be more interested in how he gets on with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when he sees them in London.

In these early days he has not had to face a diplomatic crisis. Ahead might lie Iran, whose leaders have so far rejected his open hand.

If nothing happens to calm Israeli-Palestinian relations, his own message to the Muslim world will be drowned out.

And his relations with Moscow will to a large degree depend on whether he goes ahead with the proposed anti-missile defence system in Poland the Czech Republic.

G20 priorities

These are the four main elements of Mr Obama's visit:

  • Economics: He attends the G20 meeting in London, with his economic recovery plan already announced, yet facing a picking over by Congress. No doubt there will be fine words at the end of the conference - but will the major economies stand together, as they did not after a similar meeting in London in 1933? Will the crisis of capitalism be overcome?
  • Nato: Nato is celebrating its 60th anniversary with meetings in France and Germany on either side of the Rhine to symbolise the peace that has existed in Europe since then. France is even rejoining the military structure. But all is not well behind the scenes. President Obama has his new plan for Afghanistan, consisting largely of expanding all the elements of the old Bush plan - more troops, more aid, more training for the Afghans, more pressure on the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan. It has all been tried before - now it will be tried even more. But Afghanistan is increasingly an American show. Nato - with exceptions - is showing less mettle as the Americans show more metal. There could be tensions.
  • The European Union: These days the US and the EU are not the twin colossi bestriding the world. They are both damaged giants. They still might need each other - but they also these days have to listen to others as well.
  • The Muslim element: President Obama's visit to Turkey will produce more open-handed rhetoric designed to appeal to moderates in the Muslim world. But the president's historically-minded advisers will recall what happened to President Jimmy Carter, whose policy also sought to reach out but who got his fingers burned in Iran.

So at this stage, on several fronts, the talking has been easy. The actions may be less so.

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San Francisco Chronicle Pressure high for president's Europe trip - 1 hr ago
Telegraph G20 summit: 20 fascinating facts - 20 hrs ago
CNN World leaders meet to talk about economy crisis - 20 hrs ago
CBS News Obama Faces Major Tests Overseas - 21 hrs ago

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