Syria crisis overshadows Barack Obama’s Sweden visit

Sweden is making a hard effort to draw attention to a broader agenda.

Written by AFP | Stockholm | Published: September 4, 2013 2:47:19 pm

US President Barack Obama arrives in Sweden today for a two-day visit likely to revolve around Syria,despite the host nation’s effort to draw attention to a broader agenda.

Obama took off for 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 today 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.

“I don’t think we should advocate military solutions of a conflict which in my opinion should be resolved through political and diplomatic efforts,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said last week. Jan Joel Andersson,a North America expert at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs,said that overall,”it will be a little difficult for Sweden to discuss Syria”,particularly after the British parliament voted last week against any strikes on the Syrian regime.

“Now that London has renounced armed intervention,other European countries will be more cautious,” he said. Pointing to the economy-heavy agenda,Foreign Minister Bildt said Obama’s visit marks “an increased interest in Sweden and the Nordic-Baltic region”.

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