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Ukraine Crisis, NSA Eavesdropping Dominate Summit Discussions


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

President Obama is in Brussels this morning for meetings with NATO allies and the European Union. He flew there from The Hague after wrapping up a whirlwind two-day nuclear summit, though the nuclear agenda was eclipsed by events on the sidelines, foremost among them, the U.S. effort to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It tells you something about this nuclear summit that at the concluding press conference was not a single question was actually about the summit.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: During this dispute with Russia...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thirty thousand Russian troops on the border...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If not Russia, who?

SHAPIRO: President Obama and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte took one questions after another about Russia's actions in Ukraine. Obama sounded almost dismissive of President Vladimir Putin, calling Russia a regional power that is threatening some if its immediate neighbors out of weakness.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don't need to invade them, in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them.

SHAPIRO: The president has used the past two days to pull together a global consensus. The Group of Eight is now a Group of Seven after Russia was pushed out. Until now, there have only been sanctions against Russian individuals. But now, Obama says if Russia goes any farther, there will be tough sanctions against whole sectors of the country's economy.

OBAMA: And that would include areas, potentially, like energy, or finance, or arms sales or trade that exist between Europe and the United States and Russia.

SHAPIRO: Sanctions that broad could do damage far beyond Russia. After all, the West does a lot of business with Russia. It's one reason the Europeans have so far been skittish about such a severe punishment. But now the world appears to be speaking with one voice, says Dutch Prime Minister Rutte.

MARK RUTTE: Obviously you can never guarantee that people in Europe, in Canada, in the U.S. would not be hurt. But obviously we will make sure that we will design these sanctions in such a way that they will have maximum impact on the Russian economy and not on the European, the Canadian, the Japanese or the American economy.

SHAPIRO: Another key subject in his press conference was NSA eavesdropping. Obama said the National Security Agency will no longer store massive databases of phone records. That's a recommendation his privacy panel made months ago. At the time, the president expressed reservations. Now he says the intelligence community has come up with a plan that satisfies him.

OBAMA: I recognize that people were concerned about what might happen in the future with that bulk data. This proposal that's been presented to me would eliminate that concern.

SHAPIRO: He didn't describe the proposal in detail. Once he does, it will still have to go through Congress.

When this press conference in The Hague ended, Obama went back to the U.S. ambassador's residence for a series of meetings with world leaders. Late in the day, he brought together two countries that have had a frosty relationship. South Korea and Japan are both close to the U.S. but longstanding historical and cultural differences have kept them at arms length from each other.

As these three leaders sat around a table together for the first time, Obama emphasized that they all have an interest in preventing North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons.

OBAMA: Over the last five years, close coordination between our three countries has succeeded in changing the game with North Korea. And our trilateral cooperation has sent a strong signal to Pyongyang that its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response.

SHAPIRO: The Hague seems like a natural place for this meeting, a city that has historically been the scene of international reconciliation, just after a summit focused on nuclear disarmament. Now the president is in Belgium for meetings with the European Union and NATO. This evening he'll deliver the keynote speech of this trip at the Grand BOZAR Centre in Brussels.

According to his senior administration official, he'll try to put these events in Ukraine into a larger context. The president will describe his vision for how the international community should respond when countries break the rules; not only in Russia, but in Iran, Syria and around the world.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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