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At G-20 summit, Barack and Michelle Obama thunder onto the world stage

LONDON

He talked nuclear threats with Russia's president and gave an iPod to the queen.

And that was only the beginning. It was an eventful first day on the world stage for President Barack Obama, launching new arms control talks, placing China ties on fresh footing and calming fears about the ailing U.S. economy — seemingly everywhere, relaxed and smiling all the while.

Wife Michelle attracted breathless attention with every stop, fashionable outfit and sip of tea.

The new U.S. president, in London for today's high-stakes global summit on the financial meltdown, dashed through a dawn-to-dark schedule Wednesday despite the effects of a head cold.

Schoolchildren ran alongside his nearly 20-vehicle motorcade.

He was asked to give a pep talk to England's soccer team for its World Cup qualifying match (he politely declined) and to offer campaign tips to embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ("good policy is good politics," he said).

There was even a chance to talk dinosaurs with Brown's young sons — and to snare two hours of quality time with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

"Michelle has been really thinking that through," Obama said, presumably referring to the daunting clothes dilemma posed by an audience with royalty. Mrs. Obama chose a black skirt and sweater over a white top and pearls.

Before that meeting at the palace: diplomacy of a different sort.

Brown, his dour demeanor one factor in his shaky political standing, said effusively that Obama had provided "renewed hope" all around the world. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose nation has often assailed the United States, offered his own praise, albeit more measured. His first meeting with Obama, he said, left him "far more optimistic" about Washington-Moscow relations.

Undeterred by a cold, Obama held a whirlwind of one-on-one talks with those and other leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao. He aimed not just to lay the groundwork for today's summit of the 20 largest wealthy and developing economies but also more broadly to initiate a new era in American foreign relations.

His first task was a little repair job.

British feelings were hurt by what was perceived as a bit of a cold shoulder from Obama toward Brown when the British leader visited Washington last month. So when Obama and Brown appeared together before American and British reporters, Obama bent over backward to show his affection for both host and host country. The lengthy round of questions made up for the slight of no news conference in Washington.

"The United States and the United Kingdom have stood together through thick and thin, through war and peace, through hard times and prosperity, and we've always emerged stronger by standing together," Obama said next to a beaming Brown.

Nevertheless, Obama hedged his bets by also sitting down — in full view of the cameras — with Brown's main rival, David Cameron, the leader of Britain's Conservative Party.

Obama's talks with Medvedev were their first in person. Both sides sought to portray them as a major development for a relationship that has been severely hobbled in recent years by ever-sharpening disputes.

Obama also announced he would visit Moscow in July. He also said that producing a tangible agreement is a "good place to start" in setting the stage for cooperation on thornier areas such as Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

Obama's meeting with Hu brought yet another announcement of foreign travel. The White House said the president would go to China in the second half of the year.

In central London's financial district, by contrast, thousands of protesters rallied against the economic summit.

Who's to blame for the global crisis? Obama acknowledged U.S. mistakes but also defended America's leadership and its economic model.

"I think if you pulled quotes from 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, from previous news reports, you might find similar contentions that America was on decline," Obama said. "And somehow it hasn't worked out that way."

Protests amid the protocol

G-20 protesters clashed with riot police in central London on Wednesday, overwhelming police lines, vandalizing the Bank of England and smashing windows at the Royal Bank of Scotland. An effigy of a banker was set ablaze, drawing cheers.

Call to reduce nuclear weapons

The United States and Russia set an ambitious course for global cooperation Wednesday as presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev ordered negotiators into immediate action on a treaty to further reduce nuclear weapons.

What's on the queen's iPod?

Obama gave Queen Elizabeth a video iPod loaded with show tunes (think Carol Channing and Ethel Merman). 12A

More on the Web

For a slide show from the summit, go to links.tampabay.com.

fast facts

What's the G-20?

The Group of 20, or G-20, is an international body that meets to discuss economic issues. Its members — 19 countries with some of the world's biggest industrial and emerging economies, plus the European Union — represent about 90 percent of the world's gross national product, 80 percent of world trade and two-thirds of the global population.

Members are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States. The European Union is also a member.

At G-20 summit, Barack and Michelle Obama thunder onto the world stage 04/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 11:33pm]

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