James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Obama Visits The Hague, Brussels, Rome, and Riyadh

by James M. Lindsay
March 21, 2014

U.S. president Barack Obama boards Air Force One. (Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix Sweden/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. president Barack Obama boards Air Force One. (Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix Sweden/Courtesy Reuters)


The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Obama’s upcoming international trip. The president will be stopping in The Hague, where he will attend the Nuclear Security Summit and meet with world leaders on the sidelines; Brussels, where he will attend an EU-U.S. summit; Rome, where he will meet with the Italian prime minister and Pope Francis; and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Abdullah.

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The highlights:

  • President Obama heads out of town next week. His first stop is The Hague where he will attend the third Nuclear Security Summit. The president launched the summit in his famed 2009 speech in Prague. The first summit was held in Washington in 2010 and the second in Seoul in 2012. Xi Jinping will be attending as part of his first trip to Europe as China’s president. The two presidents will hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of the summit, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea will likely be a topic. Obama would love China, which typically argues that state borders are inviolate, to criticize the Russian move. So far, however, the Chinese have steered clear of any condemnations. Obama will also discuss Ukraine with the other heads of the G-7 countries while he is in The Hague. Up for debate will be whether to boycott the planned G-8 summit meeting scheduled for Sochi, Russia in June, or possibly even pulling the plug on the G-8 entirely.
  • Ukraine will dominate the discussion at Obama’s next stop in Brussels. He and EU leaders will be trying to coordinate their responses to Russia’s land grab in Crimea. European countries are split over how to respond, with several countries reluctant to impose sanctions because of the potential damage to their own economies. Obama will also have to tackle the topic that formally brings him to Brussels, the new round of transatlantic trade talks. He can expect to catch flak from his European counterparts for the NSA spying disclosures.
  • Obama will hold separate meetings during his stop in Rome with new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and Pope Francis. It will be the third time in a week that the Obama and Renzi will have met, but it will be the president’s first meeting with the pope. Poverty and economic inequality are likely to figure prominently in their conversation. Pope Francis has focused attention on both topics during his first year in the papacy; Obama and congressional Democrats plan do likewise in the run-up to the November mid-term elections. Observers are wondering if Pope Francis will raise the Catholic Church’s unhappiness with the contraception and abortion provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Obama wraps up his week away from the White House in Saudi Arabia where he will be looking to reassure his hosts about the U.S. commitment to their security. Saudi officials have made it clear that they are deeply unhappy with the president’s handling of Iran and Syria. From a distance it looks doubtful that the president can say anything that will ease Riyadh’s unhappiness.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is 1 percent. My Figure of the Week is Janet Yellen. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listener Zog Begolli (@zbegolli), who chose Aleksandr Vucic. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

The Hague: ABC News reports that President Obama has proposed a G-7 meeting to discuss Ukraine on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. I discuss the challenges President Obama will face in making sanctions against Russia work.  Robert Kahn explains the need for “off-ramps” in the use of sanctions on Russia over Crimea. Stewart Patrick explains how the Crimean annexation sets a terrible precedent for the international community. The Wall Street Journal reports that Xi and Obama will have a bilateral meeting in The Hague.

Brussels: The Guardian explains why the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is “not a threat to democracy”. Reuters reports that the United States and European Union have promised to remove all tariffs on bilateral trade. The European Voice argues that there is no chance for TTIP in 2014. The Helsinki Times report that the Finnish Parliament’s Left Alliance has called for ending the trade agreement talks.

Rome: Bloomberg reports that the Italian debt will be a challenge for Renzi’s plan to revive the Italian economy. The Huffington Post writes that Pope Francis’s meeting with Obama should encourage social justice. The Washington Post predicts what Obama and Pope Francis will discuss.

Riyadh: The Washington Post writes that Obama plans to visit Saudi Arabia. Reuters reports Saudi Arabia seeks to discuss security issues with President Obama. AFP reports experts are urging Obama to press Saudi Arabia to help end the Bahrain crisis. Al-Monitor writes that King Abdullah will raise regime change in Syria during his discussion with Obama.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    The EU and the US should applaud Russia on its annexation of the Ukraine, after a popular vote overwhelmingly in favor of the action. They need not continue the bullying rhetoric, since it is they who picked the fight. Russia’s duly elected representative had chosen to go with a Russian deal, and the US, which hoped to see Ukraine subscribe to an IMF-underwritten plan, was the one who was angry, and not the people of the Ukraine. There is discontent in every country, but America, through a network of US-government-linked “NGOs,” had long established a strong link to opposition forces to be mobilized whenever the need arose. The Kiev junta certainly has its own set of legal and legitimacy challenges to surmount. As the established government was compromised, the Russians implemented their own solution, which is no more liable to criticism than the West’s.

    Americans are undoubtedly tired of counterproductive interventions, and would prefer that their government establish cordial ties with Russia with the aim establishing global co-prosperity. The CFR should concern itself with such co-prosperity, and not automatically assume that sanctions are a solution to US differences with Russia, or even that the average American supports such measures.

    Whether it is the “people power” of the Philippines or the riots that suddenly materialized to overthrow Suharto after he showed reluctance to get on board with the IMF program, or the street protests in Kiev gone awry, a pattern of US covert support for regime change emerges, which smacks of direct intervention in the affairs of nations– violation of national integrity as serious, if not more so, than the annexation of a region of a nation that had lost a legitimate head of government and arguably its claim to its previously construed borders.

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    In the first sentence of my above comment, I meant to refer to the annexation of Crimea, not the Ukraine. Perhaps a slip of the pen will prove to be prophetic.

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