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G20 Countries Seek Ways to Resolve Economic Crisis

March 31, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Our lead story: Leaders of the world’s largest and developing economies began gathering today for the Group of 20 summit. Their goal: to find a way out of the worst global financial crisis since the 1930s.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president and first lady left behind Washington and its cherry blossoms to make their first trip to Europe since Mr. Obama took office.

The first stop, London, where the world’s economic powers opened their summit on Thursday. In a speech at St. Paul’s Cathedral, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown laid out some of his goals for the meeting.

GORDON BROWN, prime minister, Britain: Leaders meeting in London must supply the oxygen of confidence to today’s global economy, to give people in all our countries renewed hope for the future.

Our first test, as I said, we must clean up the banking system, curb the use of tax havens, introduce principles for pay and bonuses, so instead of banks serving themselves, they serve the people.

Our second task is that we must take the action necessary to prevent any suffering as we’ve seen in the past of mass long-term unemployment. And we must create and save more than 20 million jobs.

KWAME HOLMAN: It was unclear what action the meetings at the main summit site will produce in the face of divisions. President Obama wants more stimulus spending globally; many Europeans have focused on greater regulation.

On that issue, French President Sarkozy has threatened to walk out. His finance minister, Christine Lagarde.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE, finance minister, France: Yes, we will. President Sarkozy was very clear on that front. He said, if the deliverables are not there, I won’t sign the communique. It means walking away.

A history lesson

KWAME HOLMAN: This week's meeting comes 76 years after a similar meeting in London when the Great Depression engulfed the world. That gathering failed, despite the pleas of then-British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald.

RAMSAY MACDONALD, former prime minister, United Kingdom: Have we come knowing that the permanent good of each is dependent on the permanent good of all and determined to cooperate in coming to agreements which will make a renewal of prosperity possible? Then we shall succeed, and the expectations of the world will be justified. We must not fail.

KWAME HOLMAN: The G-20 leaders will wrestle with the problems of 2009 under heavy protection. Security operations were in full effect today at a cost of more than $10 million.

President Obama, who arrived this evening, brought an estimated 200 Secret Service agents along on the trip.