STOCKHOLM (AP) — President Barack Obama is seeking to use a 24-hour visit to this Swedish capital to show a softer side of American diplomacy even as the world's gaze remains fixed anxiously on Syria.
He intends to focus in the Nordic nation on climate change, trade and technology, a trio of issues on which there is broad consensus with European allies. The topics are a marked departure from the thorny, pressing matters he's facing back home on national security and the economy. He also plans to pay homage to a Holocaust-era hero whose name is commemorated on street signs from Paris to Tel Aviv.
The president arrived Wednesday morning in Stockholm after an overnight flight from Washington, where lawmakers are weighing whether to approve Obama's request for a military strike against Syria. A day later, Obama was scheduled to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, to meet with foreign leaders at the Group of 20 economic summit.
Greeting Obama on a mild, sunny morning at the Stockholm-Arlanda International Airport were Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and leaders of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's center-right coalition government.
Sporadic crowds lined the highway as Obama's motorcade sped from the airport and they thickened in central Stockholm, especially around Obama's waterfront hotel.
Obama's trip to Sweden will mark the first bilateral visit by a sitting U.S. president to the northern European nation. While in Stockholm, Obama will meet with Reinfeldt and King Carl XVI Gustav and dine with Nordic leaders from Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark. He'll also stop at Sweden's premier technical university to call attention to Sweden's goal to phase out fossil fuels by 2050.
The White House hastily arranged the Stockholm visit after Obama, incensed when Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, scrapped a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The cancellation created a two-day scheduling void when Obama was expecting to be overseas but had nowhere to go. The White House added Sweden to his itinerary.
Administration officials previewing Obama's trip offered little in the way of a specific rationale for the visit, other than to say that the country had extended him a written invitation some time ago. They added that Nordic nations are important partners in development, global security and promotion of democracy.
Many of Obama's global priorities — like energy, global trade and science training — parallel his second-term domestic goals as he seeks to ready the U.S. workforce for a higher-tech economy, increase demand abroad for American products and tackle climate change. But those priorities have at times been overshadowed by global outrage over massive U.S. surveillance programs revealed by Snowden and by Obama's efforts to persuade nations to take a tougher tack against Syria.
A sobering moment was expected Wednesday afternoon when he honors the late Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, credited for saving at least 20,000 Jews during World War II before being arrested by Soviet forces in 1945 and then mysteriously disappearing. Wallenberg's family planned to present a letter to Obama asking for help in pressing Russia to shed light on Wallenberg's fate.
Amid tight security, protesters were already gathering in the streets of Stockholm, including a small group from Amnesty International that held a demonstration outside the royal palace to demand that Obama close Guantanamo Bay prison.
Thousands of armed police are deployed on city streets, many roads and parks are closed in the downtown area, concrete barriers and steel fences have sprung up in many locations near where Obama will stay.
Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed.
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