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Obama presses for Egypt, Tunisia aid at G-8 summit

Meanwhile, he comes under renewed pressure from European allies to boost the U.S. role in Libya.

May 27, 2011|By Christi Parsons and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
  • President Obama heads to lunch with, from left, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
President Obama heads to lunch with, from left, European Commission President… (Stefan Rousseau, Getty…)

Reporting from Deauville, France, and Washington — President Obama pressed world powers at an international summit Thursday to swiftly aid the stricken economies of Egypt and Tunisia, but at the same time he faced renewed pressure from European allies to increase the U.S. military role in Libya.

Obama warned international leaders that unless they help create jobs and restart economic growth, the postrevolutionary governments in Cairo and Tunis could collapse, dashing hopes for the so-called Arab Spring.

European officials at the meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized countries said they shared Obama's goals, but many shied away from specific pledges of aid. They are to issue a public statement Friday outlining their plans.

There was even less harmony on the stalemated war in Libya at a time when key members of the NATO alliance are pushing for military escalation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to privately urge Obama on Friday to deploy additional U.S. warplanes in the effort, including A-10 Warthog ground-attack planes and AC-130 gunships, French officials said.

Obama has refused to increase U.S. participation in combat operations, focusing instead on the need to stabilize the North African economies. Addressing the British Parliament this week, Obama promised to increase pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and underlined the extent of current U.S. military assistance, but he offered no additional military help.

U.S. and European officials have declared publicly that they would aid democratic movements in Arab nations. But with the industrialized countries facing their own economic hardships, it remains to be seen how much they will deliver.

Obama last week announced $1 billion in debt relief and $1 billion in loan guarantees, scraped together by raiding other U.S. foreign aid accounts rather than asking Congress for new appropriations.

The International Monetary Fund is expected to announce a package of up to $5 billion; the European Union plans to increase its assistance by $1.75 billion.

The administration also is hoping to convince Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, enriched this year by high oil prices, to do more.

Officials from Egypt and Tunisia will make their own pitch at the summit Friday. Egyptian officials have been disappointed at foreign offers in recent months and say they will need $12 billion in financial aid over the next year.

World leaders want to tie their aid to Egyptian commitments to reform the country's political system and government-dominated economy. Negotiators continued to haggle Thursday night over the wording of the communique to be issued Friday on the aid package.

As Obama faced friction over Libya, he also encountered differences with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe.

At a NATO summit last year, U.S. and Russian leaders promised to explore a joint system and hailed the project as a sign of a "reset" in their relations. But in a private meeting Thursday, Obama ran into new objections from Medvedev, who said the phased system of radar installations and interceptor missiles being assembled in Eastern and Central Europe eventually would threaten Russia's nuclear arsenal. The system is to reach full development in 2020.

At earlier meetings, U.S. officials have insisted the U.S. has no intention of developing a system capable of neutralizing Russia's thousands of missiles, upending decades of stability between the powers.

But "they don't believe us," Michael McFaul, a senior White House advisor on Russia, told reporters after the leaders' 90-minute meeting.

McFaul said that when U.S. officials sought to assure Moscow that the American system did not threaten the Russian arsenal, the Russians replied: ' "That's your technical ability today. We don't know what your technical abilities will be in 2020.' "

christi.parsons@latimes.com

paul.richter@latimes.com

Parsons reported from Deauville and Richter from Washington.

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