Obama seeks to rally world leaders around global economy

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, second left, and his wife Sarah, left, wave as they greet U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, right, outside 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday April 1, 2009. World leaders are gathering in London for the Group of 20 summit amid an unprecedented security operation to protect the meeting from violent protests and terrorists.

Matt Dunham/The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.

LONDON On the eve of a global economic summit, President Barack Obama promised world leaders he would listen, not lecture, as they seek a common fix to the financial crisis. "We can only meet this challenge together," he said Wednesday as the U.S. and Russia spoke on the summit sidelines about nuclear warhead reduction.

Obama, stepping on the world stage for the first time as president, aimed to shore up both America's economy and its reputation across the globe. He met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and a session with the Chinese leadership was in the offing.

Thousands of protesters converged on central London to rally against the Group of 20 economic summit, which opens with a working dinner Wednesday night and continues throughout Thursday.

The White House confirmed that Obama and Medvedev would announce new talks to limit the number of nuclear warheads, the first major negotiations in years over what Obama called the "gravest threat to humanity."

Speaking directly to anxious families back home, Obama sought to restore consumer confidence and encourage people to think about spending now to help their future.

"Basing decisions around fear is not the right way to go," he said. "We are going to get through this difficult time."

The president also disputed criticism that the United States was feuding with other nations about the need to pump more money into economic stimulus policies.

"I am absolutely confident that this meeting will reflect enormous consensus about the need to work in concert to deal with these problems," Obama said.

Obama prodded nations to spur growth and work together on regulatory reform, and not fall into the kind of protectionism and other mistakes that helped fuel the Great Depression.

"That is a mistake that we cannot afford to repeat," Obama said during a news conference with Brown, the British leader.

Brown, too, sought to play up consensus. "We are within a few hours, I think, of agreeing a global plan for economic recovery and reform," he said.

Regarding Russia, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said both the U.S. and Russia want to reduce the number of nuclear warheads but the leaders have not settled on a specific goal. The talks would be the first major arms control negotiations since 1997.

"Both sides of the Atlantic understand that, as much as the constant cloud of nuclear warfare has receded, that the presence of these deadly weapons continues to be the gravest threat to humanity," Obama said during his news conference with Brown.

The discussion centers on a possible replacement of the dying 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limited the world's two largest nuclear arsenals. START expires Dec. 5.

Earlier Wednesday, Obama acknowledged strained relations between the two nations but says the time has come to emphasize areas where they can work together. He said the specter of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists continues to be the greatest threat against humanity.

Obama is meeting separately with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Officials in both Russia and China have called for a new global currency to end the dollar's dominance, although it's unlikely that the idea will gain immediate traction.

Obama's talks with Hu are sure to address Beijing's concerns about the safety of its position as Washington's biggest foreign creditor, with about $1 trillion in U.S. government debt. For the U.S., there are fears that any Chinese flight away from those investments would erode the U.S. ability to spend more on recession-fighting.

Both meetings are being held at the U.S. ambassador's residence, with the news media only allowed into the room before the talks take place and without the ability to ask questions.

Before the summit even opened, divisions emerged among nations' leaders.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed dissatisfaction with how the summit has been shaping up and warned he would rather risk a public dispute than accept a vague consensus or a "false compromise."

Brown said he was confident Sarkozy would still be at the table when the dinner was complete.

In London, Obama is also meeting with Brown's main rival David Cameron, the leader of Britain's opposition Conservative Party. In the afternoon, the president and first lady Michelle Obama head to Buckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.

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