Climate Change on Plate for Obama at G8

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, right, following their joint statement at the Quirinale Palace, Rome, Wednesday, July 8, 2009.
AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
Updated 9:43 a.m. EDT

President Barack Obama joined fellow world leaders in Italy Wednesday for talks on threats to global security and stability at a summit where climate change, the global economic crisis, nuclear proliferation and world hunger took top billing.

Group of Eight leaders are emphasizing the need to press on with government measures to stimulate the economy - while also studying ways to wind up those strategies.

That's according to a draft statement on the first day of their annual summit Wednesday in L'Aquila, Italy.

The leaders emphasize that the economic situation "remains uncertain" and pledge to take the necessary steps to return the global economy to strength - including stimulus - both individually and together.

The G8 meetings may lack the intrigue of Mr. Obama's sit-downs earlier in the week with Russia's top leaders, or the emotion of the reception the first black American president surely will get Saturday in Ghana. But they won't lack for ambition as the world's most powerful officials discuss the problems threatening the planet.

Mr. Obama and the leaders of seven other industrialized nations will hold meetings in the picturesque town of L'Aquila, northeast of Rome, before they were to widen their circle to include fast-growing countries like China and India and struggling nations from Africa. In large and small groups, the talks will involve trade, climate change, Iran's nuclear ambitions, food security and other issues.

Mr. Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle, met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano after arriving at the stately Quirinale Palace in Rome, a spectacular setting that included a large room with a soaring ceiling, gilded walls and doors and huge chandeliers.

After that meeting, Mr. Obama said he was looking forward to the G8 talks and praised his Italian hosts for being "such good friends" of the United States over the years.

He said the two countries "are working hand in hand in places like Afghanistan to ensure that we're isolating extremists and strengthening the forces of moderation around the world."

Mr. Obama also said he and Napolitano agreed that efforts must continue on "raising standards on financial institutions" to protect against future global economic meltdowns.

He also said it is crucial that world leaders work to ensure that Iran and North Korea don't "take a path" that would widen the arms race on the Korean peninsula and in the Mideast.

Topping the list of G8 discussions are talks on slowing the release of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

A devastating earthquake in L'Aquila in April killed almost 300 people and drove thousands from their homes. Italian Prime Minister Sivio Berlusconi moved the summit here in a show of support, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

There are still regular aftershocks here - and with the leaders of almost 40 nations staying here, there's an emergency plan to airlift them out in case there's another serious quake, Plante reports.

Many foreign leaders want the United States to embrace a target of limiting the rise in average planetary temperatures to 3.6 degrees (2 degrees Celsius) higher than they were in 1900, before widespread industrialization. Scientists say an increase beyond that could trigger dangerous rises in sea level and other dire problems.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined Wednesday to say whether the administration would endorse the goal. But he suggested it's main focus is what it can accomplish back home with Congress, not with the Group of Eight nations.

"I would say that I think our biggest contribution to this is the steps that were taken by the House," Gibbs said, referring to legislation requiring reductions in greenhouse gases.

Setting goals and achieving them, of course, are different things, and G8 meetings often are known more for high-minded roundtables and photo opportunities than for concrete results. Even before Mr. Obama left Washington, his aides tamped down expectations of breakthroughs at L'Aquila.

Presidential adviser Mike Froman told reporters that it's not quite time for industrialized nations to pull the plug on economic stimulus efforts.

World leaders gathered here will seek a balance between continuing to stimulate sluggish economies and looking for exit strategies, he said.

Froman said there is still uncertainty and risk in the global economy but it's important to return to fiscal sustainability, which would not include government stimulus efforts. Some G8 leaders have urged Mr. Obama to support an end to stimulus efforts soon.

Mr. Obama made a major speech in Moscow after jointly declaring with Soviet President Dmitry Medvedev a desire to find agreement by year's end on a treaty to slash U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles by a third. Barring a breakthrough on climate change, or perhaps new sanctions against Iran, the emotional highlight of Mr. Obama's Italy trip may be his audience Friday with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

The summit here involves an ever-growing numbers of nations beyond the G-8, whose members are the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan. Various meetings will include representatives of Egypt, Turkey, Mexico and several other nations.