Obama Faces Leaders of Other Global Powers

LONDON (AP) - Stepping onto the world stage for the first time
in his two-month presidency, Barack Obama is holding face-to-face
talks with the leaders of the two nations - Russia and China - most
aggressively challenging the U.S. position atop the global order.

Obama is meeting separately Wednesday with Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Officials in both
countries have called for a new global currency to end the dollar's
dominance.

Dramatic in itself, the suggestion is also a sign of broader
questions about whether U.S. status in the world could be
threatened by the rise of a competing power bloc.

It's not likely that the new currency idea will gain immediate
traction. But Steven Schrage, an international business expert at
the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International
Studies, said it could eventually if the Obama administration
doesn't tackle the perception that the wave of massive stimulus
spending in the United States could create unsustainable debt
levels.

"People will be very closely reading the tea leaves," Schrage
said.

That's one reason the public will see little of the meetings.
Both are being held at the U.S. ambassador's residence, with the
news media only allowed into the room before the talks take place
and without the ability to ask questions.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, had a low-key arrival in Britain
Tuesday night to launch an eight-day, five-country European tour.

The centerpiece of the president's London stay is a summit of
the world's top 20 economies on the global economic meltdown.
Obama's preparations continued even as he flew across the Atlantic.
He consulted by phone with the summit host, British Prime Minister
Gordon Brown.

The meetings open with a working dinner Wednesday night and
continue throughout Thursday.

Also Wednesday, Obama is seeing Brown in person for meetings and
a joint appearance before the press. With Brown's political future
in doubt, Obama is later squeezing in talks with Brown's main rival
- David Cameron, the leader of Britain's opposition Conservative
Party.

In the afternoon, Obama heads to Buckingham Palace for an
audience with Queen Elizabeth II.

With U.S.-Russia relations having deteriorated in recent years
to lowest point since the early 1980s, the Obama administration has
announced its desire to "press the reset button." The Kremlin has
made clear it believes it is up to Washington to open the effort
with concessions.

Obama has indicated less enthusiasm than predecessor George W.
Bush for a proposed new U.S. missile defense system based in
Eastern Europe, an idea that has enraged Russia. Another key area
of discussion is the possible replacement of the dying 1991
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limited the world's two
largest nuclear arsenals. START expires Dec. 5. Obama and Medvedev
are expected to announce talks on a new pact.

They would be the first major arms control negotiations since
1997. But a thicket of disputes makes meeting the deadline
unlikely.

With Moscow eager to boost its battered prestige, Reginald Dale,
a CSIS Europe scholar, said Obama can't afford to employ the soft
touch with Russia.

"Medvedev will be taking the measure of Obama," Dale said.
"It's not enough just to say, 'Let's be friends.' ... They think,
oh, here's someone I can lead up the garden path."

But, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs: "Nobody
believes that change in our relationship means giving everyone all
they want. ... That's certainly not the intention of the
president."

Obama's talks with Hu are sure to address Beijing's concerns
about the safety of its position as Washington's biggest foreign
creditor, with about $1 trillion in U.S. government debt. For the
U.S., there are fears that any Chinese flight away from those
investments would erode the U.S. ability to spend more on
recession-fighting.

For China, unusually forthright of late in challenging the
U.S.-led global order, its goal is a greater say in how
international finance is regulated and managed.

Beijing and Washington also have sparred over military matters.


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