Wednesday, September 4, 2013

 

U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Sweden Wednesday for a two-day

Syria looms over Obama's Sweden visit.

President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One before his departure, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One before his departure, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Obama is traveling to Sweden and later to the G-20 Summit in St. Peterburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (The Associated Press)
STOCKHOLM: US President Barack Obama arrived in Sweden Wednesday for a two-day visit likely to revolve around Syria, despite the host nation's effort to draw attention to a broader agenda.

Obama stepped off Air Force One at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport fresh from efforts in Washington to secure bipartisan support for military strikes against Syria to punish the regime for what the US says was the use of sarin gas on a Damascus suburb.

His Europe trip will also take him to the G20 summit in Russia after making important political headway at home when top Republican leaders firmly backed his plan to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons attack.

A White House official said early Wednesday that Obama would hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of France and China on the sidelines of the G20.

While no official bilateral meeting was planned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the official said: "We would expect the two presidents to have an opportunity to speak on the margins of the various meetings of the G20."

As the US president prepared to leave for Europe, he emphasised that the action he had in mind over Syria would be less open-ended than moves undertaken in the Middle East under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

"It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan," Obama said Tuesday in Washington.

Meanwhile Sweden prepared for what will only be the second visit by an incumbent US president, after Bush in 2001, with the Scandinavian country's government saying it looked forward to discussing "various current issues".

"No doubt Syria will be such an issue, but perhaps more so the free trade negotiations between the US and the EU," Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a statement.

There is good reason for Sweden to avoid a visit completely overshadowed by Syria as the issue is almost bound to bring out deep-seated differences on the best way to address the Middle Eastern regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.

"We need to come up with a forceful response," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told Swedish television early Wednesday. "We hope that the (UN) Security Council can agree on this."

Late last week, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he opposed "military solutions of a conflict which in my opinion should be resolved through political and diplomatic efforts."
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