Syria likely top issue for Obama at G8 talks

Europe will be lobbied to help Assad foes

Riot police drill near the Lough Erne resort in Northern Ireland. Security preparations were under way Sunday for the G8 summit that starts today.
Riot police drill near the Lough Erne resort in Northern Ireland. Security preparations were under way Sunday for the G8 summit that starts today.

SLIGO, Ireland — President Obama this week is visiting a European continent deeply worried about its economy and the worsening conflict in Syria.

As he arrives today in Northern Ireland for his first trip to Europe in two years, Mr. Obama will be confronting the diplomatic fallout from his actions and inaction on some of the most urgent concerns of his European counterparts.

His delay in more aggressively supporting Syria’s opposition forces — a move announced in the form of expanded military aid late last week — has frustrated the leaders of France and Germany.

The recent disclosure of the National Security Agency’s phone and Internet surveillance also has angered many European politicians.

“People in Europe were looking for a political redeemer,” said Jan Techau, the director of the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Those expectations, of course, were greatly exaggerated. Soon it became clear, as it is now, that he is simply an American president with all of the ugly power politics that the position involves.”

Now that he has authorized weapons and ammunition shipments to the sturggling rebels, Mr. Obama is positioned more aggressively on Syria than the global leaders he’s joining at the summit.

He is expected to push Britain and France to take similar action when talks open in Northern Ireland among the Group of Eight leading industrial powers.

The United States, Britain, and France also will urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop his political and military help for Syrian President Bashar Assad, still in power after more than two years of fighting.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin plan separate talks on the sidelines in what would be their first in-person meeting since Mr. Obama’ re-election in November.

Also on the agenda for the two-day summit at a golf resort in Lough Erne are the global economy, a proposed U.S.-European Union trade agreement, and counterterrorism.

Mr. Obama will stop in Belfast, where he will speak to young people about keeping the peace in Northern Ireland.

The President will cap his European trip with a visit to Germany for meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

Questions about the international response to the Syrian civil war seem likely to dominate.

For months, Mr. Obama resisted calls, both in Washington and from global allies, for greater U.S. involvement, though he said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and change his calculus.

The White House said Thursday that it had conclusive evidence of the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons.

In response, U.S. officials said Mr. Obama had, for the first time, authorized lethal aid for the Syrian rebel forces.

The exact type of weaponry and how quickly it would get to the opposition remained unclear.

Ben Rhodes, the President’s deputy national security adviser, said Mr. Obama would consult on Syria with the G8 leaders, particularly British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.

Both countries have indicated a willingness to arm the rebels but haven’t taken that step.

“With the French and the British, they have shared our positions generally on Syria,” Mr. Rhodes said. “He’ll be discussing with those leaders what the best way forward is. He’ll hear from them what their plans are.”

Still, it appears almost impossible for the G8 leaders to reach a consensus, given Mr. Putin’s allegiance to Assad.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin also will discuss missile defense and U.S. calls for further cuts of both countries’ nuclear stockpiles.

There is no expectation of a breakthrough of the deep mistrust between the United States and Russia.