By Justin Sink and Julian Pecquet - 09/04/13 09:30 AM EDT
President Obama will seek international support for proposed military strikes against Syria during his three-day trip to Sweden and Russia this week.
Prospects for direct military intervention by U.S. allies look dim at this point, though French President François Hollande said Tuesday he would ask other European states to support an attack.
Obama left Washington on Tuesday evening en route to Stockholm, where he’ll meet with European leaders. From there, he’ll continue to St. Petersburg for a G-20 economic forum.
Canada and Italy also have ruled out intervention.
Hollande said he would lobby support among the G-20 after speaking separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but he said France would not act alone if the U.S. did not move forward.
There is some risk to the president in leaving the country during Congress’s debate over Syria. If Congress refuses to approve the strike, it would be a tough defeat for Obama.
The White House hopes the trip will benefit the president. If he can win statements of support from Cameron and other world leaders that would show the U.S. Congress there is international support for action against Syria, it could bolster his case. Several lawmakers have raised objections to the U.S. going it alone on Syria.
The U.S. is particularly eager to hear the support at the G-20 summit because it is being hosted by Russia. The country’s president, Vladimir Putin, has emerged as the biggest critic of Obama’s plan.
Obama will hold bilateral meetings with Holland and Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to a White House official. He has no plans to meet with Putin, but the official said the two are likely to have an opportunity to speak on the margins of various G-20 meetings.
Putin is likely to speak out against U.S. action during the summit in St. Petersburg, and he will have an ally in China’s leadership. The two countries have blocked any action on Syria at the United Nations Security Council.
U.S.-Russia relations and the Obama-Putin relationship will be another major theme in St. Petersburg.
Obama canceled a separate trip to Moscow because of a series of disagreements with Russia, including over the civil war in Syria and Russia’s decision to give asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
During a press conference shortly after canceling the trip, Obama joked that Putin looked “like the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” a remark that reportedly infuriated the Kremlin.
White House officials sought to play down the summit’s location ahead of the trip. They said the president has a full agenda and still hopes to make progress on areas as varied as ending tax havens, boosting clean energy and getting the world economy back on track.
“This is less a visit to Russia than a trip to the G-20, which happens to be hosted by Russia,” said a senior administration official.
At the top of the agenda: creating a “united focus around the importance of growth and job creation as the overriding priority for all the leaders when it comes to the global economy,” according to the administration. The White House’s “top priority” at the summit is seeking to build support for reforms that would boost domestic demand in countries such as Japan and China as the global economy comes out of the doldrums.
The administration is also pushing for a single global standard for tax evasion. It wants that standard to be modeled after the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act that increased disclosure requirements for individuals and financial institutions to crack down on tax evasion.
Obama will also be signaling his displeasure with the Kremlin. The president is slated to meet with gay rights and human rights activists while in St. Petersburg, according to a report by BuzzFeed.
In Sweden, Obama is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to discuss climate change, defense and security cooperation, global development, and the proposed trade pact with the European Union, as well as global challenges such as conflict in Egypt and Syria. Obama is then scheduled to meet with the leaders of the Nordic countries — Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway — for a dinner Wednesday evening.
Obama will then meet with Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia on Thursday before heading to St. Petersburg for the G-20.