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Obama's Europe Trip To Mark Poland, D-Day Anniversaries


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. President Obama wrapped up a big week full of highs and lows - from his foreign policy speech at West Point to the resignation of VA secretary Eric Shinseki, and the news that the sole American POW from the Afghan war has been released.

The president will now turn his attention abroad. He'll spend most of this week in Europe, observing a couple of big anniversaries - D-day and the first free election in Poland. But this trip is very much about the present and future of the continent, not just the past. Russia's actions in Ukraine will be top of mind, as the president and world leaders gather at the G-7 Summit in Brussels.

NPR's Scott Horsley will be tagging along with the president on this trip. He joins me now for a preview. So, Scott, this trip is turning out to be rather timely on several counts, right?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. As you say, the trip is book-ended by these two, big historical milestones. On Wednesday, the president will mark the 25th anniversary of that Polish election, which grew out of the solidarity movement and which really was the first crack in the Berlin wall and the Soviet empire. Then, on Friday, he'll be in Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-day.

So two landmark moments in the history of freedom and self-determination. That alone would make this a trip worthy of the history channel. But there's also a ripped-from-the-headlines currency to it, because he and the other leaders he'll be talking with will be focused on the situation in Ukraine.

MARTIN: And that situation in Ukraine is obviously reverberating around Europe.

HORSLEY: That's right. In fact, in Warsaw, the President will be meeting not only with the leaders of Poland, but the leaders of the Baltic countries and a number of Central European countries, all of whom have been alarmed at Russia's actions in Ukraine.

One of the first things Obama will do when he gets to Poland is see some of the American F-16s that are helping patrol that country - a military presence that was beefed up in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine. And Obama will meet with the President-elect, Petro Poroshenko, who was the winner in last weekend's election.

Then, he travels to Brussels for the G-7 meeting. Now it would've been the G-8 meeting. It would've been in Sochi, Russia, had it not been for Vladimir Putin's Crimean adventure. That's when the G-7 leaders said, OK, you can't come to the party anymore. And we're going to have our own meeting in Brussels, where they'll be talking about how to respond to Russia's actions and how to support the incoming government in Kiev.

MARTIN: So Vladimir Putin will not be at the G-8, making it the G-7, thus. But will he be at the D-Day anniversary celebration in Normandy that happens on Friday?

HORSLEY: He will. He was invited to attend the memorial in honor of Russia's role in the World War II. And while there's no formal meeting expected between Putin and Obama in Normandy, they will both be there. And, of course, everyone will be watching to see, you know, do they shake hands? Do they exchange words? What's the body language like? And if they have a chance to look into each other's eyes, which man blinks.

MARTIN: Before President Obama heads out on this foreign trip, though, he's got a bit of domestic policy news to make - a big announcement coming tomorrow on climate change. What do you know about that?

HORSLEY: That's right. The EPA will be unveiling some long-awaited rules governing carbon emissions from existing power plants. And so it's very important piece of the president's strategy to control greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. And initially, of course, when he came into office, Obama wanted to work with Congress to control greenhouse gases. But a cap and trade bill that he was championing in his first term died in the Senate. So instead, he has had to go through the EPA.

And these rules will be controversial, especially among coal producers and the power companies that rely on them. We are, of course, less dependent on coal than we used to be. That's partly because natural gas has gotten a lot cheaper. And, to a lesser extent, because we've expanded our use of renewables. But coal is still the number one source of power, so this is going to be a fight. But it is one that Obama has bowed to wage. In his second inaugural, he said failure to take on climate change would betray our children and future generations.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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