Obama: “trying to keep the focus on economic stability and jobs in Egypt and Tunisia”
By MARK LANDLER
Published: May 26, 2011
DEAUVILLE, France — President Obama tried to marshal global economic support for Egypt and Tunisia at a gathering of industrialized countries on Thursday, even as some European allies were privately urging him to increase the United States’ role in the military campaign in Libya.
These goals are not mutually exclusive, American and European officials said. The United States said it expected the Group of 8 countries — France and Britain, among them — to express strong support for efforts to generate jobs and revive growth in Arab countries.
“Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, a number of leaders, have all stressed the importance of using these meetings to show a unified front in providing support for Egypt and Tunisia,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.
Libya and the Arab world dominated the meeting of world leaders in this fashionable seaside resort in Normandy. Mr. Sarkozy, the host, is still pushing for the United States to deploy A-10 attack aircraft and AC-130 gunships in Libya, said a French official, though he said Mr. Sarkozy was making his pitch privately.
At a news conference here, the French president reiterated his call for Colonel Qaddafi to relinquish power. “We’re not saying he should go into exile,” Mr. Sarkozy said. But he “cannot stay in power.”
Mr. Obama, who has rejected calls for more combat aircraft, is trying to keep the focus on economic stability and jobs in Egypt and Tunisia. At the same time, he is relying on European governments and international financial institutions to supply much of the capital.
Prime Minister David Cameron told Mr. Obama on Wednesday that Britain would support the effort, and it would pledge $178 million. American officials said they had gotten encouraging signs from Germany and France, even if neither has made a concrete pledge.
The International Monetary Fund, which has had a team in Egypt for the last week, is readying a package worth $4 billion to $5 billion to help it bridge a financing gap, a fund official said. Egyptian officials said their economy, damaged by unrest that halted trade and tourism, will need an infusion of $12 billion just this year to steady itself.
Last week, Mr. Obama announced $1 billion of debt relief and $1 billion in loan guarantees for Egypt. The European Union plans to increase its aid by $1.75 billion.
The United States and Europe have played down expectations of a big dollar total, saying this is not a pledging conference. That partly reflects the bitter experience of past summit meetings, where tens of billions of dollars were pledged to alleviate poverty and many countries dragged their feet in delivering on their promises.
It also reflects the fact that the most cash-rich countries — as well as the ones with the most incentive to support stable Arab countries — are their neighbors in the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration is focusing much of its efforts on persuading Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries to make pledges to Egypt and Tunisia, officials said.
The Group of 8 is also expected to take a harsh stand against Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, officials said. That may require some arm-twisting, however, since Russia has opposed efforts to impose United Nations sanctions on the Syrian government.
Conceding those differences, Mr. Rhodes said, “We want to have a strong and unified voice that we’re speaking with our allies and all who share concerns for the rights of the Syrian people.”
The Libyan campaign was high on the agenda when Mr. Obama met for 90 minutes with Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev. But they also discussed Russia’s bid to enter the World Trade Organization and efforts to settle disagreements over the deployment of an American missile-defense system in Eastern Europe.
Russia is less bitterly opposed to missile defense than it was a year ago, an American official said. But he said the Russians remained suspicious that the most advanced version of the system — not scheduled to be deployed until 2020 — would threaten their nuclear defenses.
“They have a perception that when we get to that phase, that there may be some capability to threaten what we call strategic stability,” said Michael McFaul, senior director for Russia at the National Security Council. “We have no intention of doing that.”
Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Obama appeared stern-faced after their session, but American officials insisted it went well. Their expressions, one said, reflected only the stuffiness of the room.
Despite much anticipation, the leadership void at the I.M.F. did not figure much in hallway chatter. The French government is promoting its finance minister, Christine Lagarde, as a candidate to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been charged with the sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York.
The Obama administration remains noncommittal on her candidacy, saying only that it wants the most qualified person. But a French official said he was confident that Ms. Lagarde, who did not attend the meeting, had amassed enough support to win the managing director post.