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Syria, Economy Top The G8 Agenda


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

President Obama leaves tonight on a quick trip to Europe. He'll attend a G8 summit of industrialized nations in Northern Ireland. He'll also pay a visit to Germany, where his plans include a public speech at the historic Brandenburg Gate.

NPR's Scott Horsley will be traveling with the president. He joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, one big topic at the G8 meeting is going to be Syria. And President Obama made some news this past week on that front.

HORSLEY: That's right. Of course, the U.S. has now decided it is going to start supplying direct military aid to the Syrian opposition. That's a response to what the administration has concluded was Syria's use of chemical weapons. The White House says by using sarin gas against his own people, Bashar al-Assad has not only crossed the president's red line, but a red line for the international community. So that's going to be an important point of discussion at the G8.

The U.S. is now more in sync with its allies France and Britain, which had already dropped their own arms embargo in order to help the Syrian rebels. The odd man out at this G8 meeting will be Russia, because Russia is a longtime ally of Syria. And just a couple of days ago, Russia was expressing skepticism about the U.S. findings that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.

President Obama is scheduled to have a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Doubtful they'll come to any meeting of the minds on Syria, but the other G8 partners look as if they're ready to get more deeply involved there.

MARTIN: So the conflict in Syria will be on the agenda. What else will G8 leaders be talking about?

HORSLEY: Well, there will be a lot of economic discussion. Europe is no longer on the knife's edge it was the last time these leaders met at Camp David. But a lot of European countries are still hurting. Likewise, the U.S. economy is getting better but very slowly. So there's going to be a be a lot of talk about how to foster economic growth. One piece of that is trade.

The U.S. has been working for several years on a trans-Pacific trade deal that G8 member Japan now wants to join. And British Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing for a trans-Atlantic trade agreement. That's just in its early stages but there will be some talk about that.

And the president will likely get some questions about the newly disclosed U.S. surveillance efforts, since a lot of people in G8 countries have been caught up in that net and some of them aren't too happy about it.

MARTIN: OK, so from Northern Ireland, President Obama flies to Berlin. He will continue his conversation with Angela Merkel there. And as we said, he's got a big speech coming up. This is not the first time that he has spoken in Berlin. We remember those huge crowds back in 2008.

HORSLEY: That's right. When he was candidate Obama and he visited Berlin in the summer of 2008. Now, that was not at the Brandenburg Gate. The Germans were very welcoming to the candidate but their message at the time was: You want to play Brandenburg Gate, you've got to get elected first. So he did, now he's back, and he's going to be speaking at the spot where Ronald Reagan famously said: Tear down this wall.

But because the wall has come down, Obama will get to speak on the eastern side of the gate. So there's a lot of history attached to this visit. It's almost exactly 50 years since John Kennedy's famous Ich Bin Ein Berliner Speech, and 65 years from the start of the Berlin Airlift.

MARTIN: President Obama will mark a different kind of milestone tomorrow, when he speaks in Belfast, Northern Ireland, right?

HORSLEY: That's right. He'll be celebrating the U.S. role in brokering the Good Friday Agreements that helped end the troubles in Northern Ireland. And he'll challenge the young people there to keep the peace process moving.

Rachel, I might say that since it's Father's Day, the president's daughters will be accompanying him on this trip. And after he speaks in Belfast, they're going to head to the Republic of Ireland and tour Trinity College, where some of the records of the president's Irish ancestry are on display.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley, thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.