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As G-8 Summit Wraps Up, Obama Heads to Ghana

July 10, 2009 at 6:15 PM EDT
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Margaret Warner, who has been reporting on the scene of the G-8 summit, discusses the meeting's conclusion and President Obama's next stop in Ghana.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama wrapped up a week of European travel with a final news conference at the G-8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. Mr. Obama said the G-8 leaders are giving Iran two months to start talking seriously about the country’s nuclear program.

BARACK OBAMA, U.S., President: We remain seriously concerned about the appalling events surrounding the presidential election, and we’re deeply troubled by the proliferation risks Iran’s nuclear program poses to the world.

We’ve offered Iran a path towards assuming its rightful place in the world, but with that right comes responsibilities. We hope Iran will make the choice to fulfill them, and we will take stock of Iran’s progress when we see each other this September at the G-20 meeting.

JEFFREY BROWN: Before heading off to Ghana, the president stressed the importance to Africa of a new commitment to food security.

BARACK OBAMA: There is no reason why Africa cannot be self-sufficient when it comes to food. I have family members who live in villages — they themselves are not going hungry — but live in villages where hunger is real. And so this is something that I understand in very personal terms.

And if you talk to people on the ground in Africa — certainly in Kenya — they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren’t working for ordinary people, and so governance is a vital concern that has to be addressed.

Now, keep in mind — I want to be very careful — Africa is a continent, not a country, and so you can’t extrapolate from the experience of one country, and there are a lot of good things happening. Part of the reason that we’re traveling to Ghana is because you’ve got there a functioning democracy, a president who’s serious about reducing corruption, and you’ve seen significant economic growth.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Mr. Obama remarked on the number of international summits he’s been attending since his inauguration and suggested changes for future forums seeking to resolve economic and political issues.

BARACK OBAMA: So I think we’re in a transition period. We’re trying to find the right shape that combines the efficiency and capacity for action with inclusiveness. And my expectation is, is that, over the next several years, you’ll see an evolution and we’ll be able to find the right combination.

The one thing I will be looking forward to is fewer summit meetings, because, as you said, I’ve only been in office six months now, and there have been a lot of these. And I think that there’s a possibility of streamlining them and making them more effective.

The United States obviously is a absolutely committed partner to concerted international action, but we need to, I think, make sure that they’re as productive as possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: Once the summit ended, the Obamas met the pope in Rome.

This afternoon, I talked with Margaret Warner, who’s been covering the president’s trip for us all week, from Russia to Italy.

So, Margaret, some tough words on Iran, but no immediate new sanctions?

Obama advances Iran timetable

MARGARET WARNER: No, not today, Jeff, but they weren't aiming for that. What was interesting about what President Obama said today is that he has clearly advanced the timetable by which he's going to be assessing whether Iran is serious on taking him up on his offer about engaging.

You may recall that, when Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was in town six weeks ago or so, President Obama suggested by December he'd take a look as this, but now today the president endorsed September, which is what President Sarkozy had suggested, which is when they all get together for both the U.N. and the G-20 in Pittsburgh. That's the point at which they'll take a look and see whether the Iranians are serious about engaging.

I'm told by White House aides that, since the election, which was a month ago in Iran, there have been nothing serious in the way of a response from the Iranian government, understandably, of course. They've been distracted.

But this aide said, We can't just sit around and wait and say, "They've got domestic problems." I mean, we're assuming they're continuing their nuclear program. And so we don't want to delay and just let their nuclear weapons program become a fait accompli.

So the same aide said that it's not as if they would impose sanctions in September, either, but he thinks, if nothing has happened by September, that at that point the Europeans, the Americans, and they hope the Russians, as well, will set some sort of an ultimatum at that point or there will be a push to set an ultimatum by which point, if Iran doesn't respond, certain agreed-upon sanctions, tougher sanctions would go into place.

So there's still a lot of pieces, a lot of chess pieces to move here. But, as President Obama said today at the press briefing with us, he said, I hope that the Iranian leadership, essentially, is watching this and hearing this G-8 message, which is that world opinion is moving.

Aid to Africa increases

JEFFREY BROWN: Another subject there was an agreement on food security, a commitment of $20 billion. What does that translate into?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, it's even more than the Americans had been originally aiming for. They wanted to get $15 billion. What that's really aimed at doing is changing the way aid is given to Africa, in particular, so that it is not so much aid as it is development, investment, and helping them learn to grow crops better.

So the first thing is, it's a different kind of aid. The second is, it's a lot more money.

We're told that, in the meeting today, in the closed-door meeting, President Obama was even more personal than the clip you just ran indicated, that he did talk about his own family in Kenya and their poverty, and he said, You know, my cousin can't even get a job without paying a bribe.

And he told his fellow leaders, You can't blame that on the history of colonialism or actions by the West, that there's a responsibility on the part of African governments, too.

And so that's the double-barreled message that he's taking to Ghana. He's giving a major speech there tomorrow. And he's going to say, part of his message will be, the West needs to do more to help Africa, but Africa also has to do more to help itself, and there has to be greater transparency, greater openness, more civil society.

He will point to Ghana as a success story, or at least a country that's moved farther along on this path. But it is going to be a double-barreled message, and it was previewed in the comments he made today about the Food Security Initiative.

Catholic Pope a natural ally

JEFFREY BROWN: Finally, the president met with the pope today. There was word the president came in hoping to find some areas of agreement on the economy and other international issues. What can you tell us?

MARGARET WARNER: We were told repeatedly by Obama advisers that this visit with the pope today -- Michelle Obama was going, as well -- was much more than, quote, "just a state visit" to him, that he has been profoundly affected by Catholic teachings.

You know, he was a student in a Catholic school in Indonesia. Apparently, the community organizer program that he worked in, in the South Side of Chicago, was partly funded by a Catholic organization. And more broadly, the teachings of social justice, Catholic teachings on social justice have profoundly affected him.

And so he was looking forward to this visit, because, as well, on a practical side, unlike his relationship maybe with the Catholic hierarchy in the states, which has focused very much on abortion and stem cell research and very critical of the president on that, they see in and he sees in the pope a natural ally, again, on themes of social justice, on his stressing interfaith dialogue in the Muslim world, in the Middle East, and elsewhere, and that they can really make common cause on a number of these broader themes, particularly internationally.

So I would say, on both a personal level as well as a practical one, this visit was far more than a courtesy call for this president. This is really one of the highlights of the trip for him.

JEFFREY BROWN: Margaret Warner at the G-8 summit in Italy, thanks for all your good work this week.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Jeff.