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G-8 Summit To Tackle Trade, Syria, Slow Economic Growth


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. We begin this hour with the annual Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland. Today, President Obama and the other G8 leaders huddled at a resort there. Among the many topics, the bloody civil war in Syria. President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down to talk about Syria, acknowledging that they have, as Mr. Obama said, differing perspectives.

But they share an interest in stopping the violence. And Obama's day began with a speech about Northern Ireland's own experience with violence. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: U.S. and European leaders launched this G-8 summit with an ambitious announcement. Beginning next month, the United States and Europe will try to forge a transatlantic trade agreement, harmonizing regulations and lowering trade barriers in a move that British Prime Minister David Cameron boasts could generate some two million jobs.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: This is a once in a generation prize and we are determined to seize it.

HORSLEY: With the British economy barely growing and other European countries stuck in recession, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are eager to find new markets. President Obama cautioned, though, brokering a deal like this won't be easy. Even though tariffs between the U.S. and Europe are low, there are countless other barriers to trade, from the U.S. government's Buy American requirements to France's protection of its homegrown movie and TV industries.

Despite those obstacles, Obama promised to make the trade talks a priority.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: America and Europe have done extraordinary things together before and I believe we can forge an economic alliance as strong as our diplomatic and security alliances.

HORSLEY: Diplomacy and security are the subjects of a working dinner for the leaders tonight and much of the focus is bound to be on Syria. Russian President Vladmir Putin is unhappy with Obama's decision to start arming the Syrian rebels. But after their one-on-one meeting this afternoon, Putin said through an interpreter they share an interest in a peaceful resolution.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: We agreed to push the parties to the negotiation table.

HORSLEY: The setting for this week's summit is a world away from the fighting in Syria.

G8 leaders have assembled at a remote golf resort where Rory McIlroy keeps a home. There won't be any golf on this trip, though Obama joked about getting some pointers from McIlroy. The president says the mere fact this summit's being held in Northern Ireland shows how far the country's come since the Good Friday accords 15 years ago helped bring an end to sectarian violence.

OBAMA: There was a time people couldn't have imagined Northern Ireland hosting a gathering of world leaders, as you are today.

HORSLEY: As he often does on foreign trips, Obama sought out an audience of young people in Belfast. He said with its peace process, their country has become an inspiration to people around the world trapped by ethnic, religious or tribal conflicts.

OBAMA: So you're their blueprint to follow. You're their proof of what is possible, because hope is contagious. They're watching to see what you do next.

HORSLEY: Obama said the challenge for Northern Ireland's young people is to protect and build on the peace their parents fought for. He described a generation both clear-eyed and idealistic, one that's, quote, "keenly aware of the world as it is but eager to forge the world as it should be." Jethro Baird(ph) is one of those young Belfast residents who's grown up in a newly peaceful Northern Ireland.

JETHRO BAIRD: It's a natural evolution. I think just as long as people want peace, there will be peace. I don't think it's in anyone's interest anymore to have violence.

HORSLEY: Baird also likes the idea his home country could serve as an example to other global hotspots trying to navigate their own troubles.

BAIRD: This is one of the things I was thinking about, which is in relation to the Middle East and the difficulties between the Sunni and Shiites. There's a very, very obvious parallel between, you know, Protestants and Catholics here. I think the problems come from a similar place. I don't know, if Northern Ireland can do it, hopefully everyone can do it.

HORSLEY: That's a vision of the world as it might be for G8 leaders to consider, even as they wrestle with the messy world as it is. Scott Horsley, NPR News, traveling with the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.