How much is the US snooping on Europeans?
In a hastily planned visit to Sweden, Obama tried to allay anger over the NSA's international surveillance programs.
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Obama also paid homage to a Holocaust-era hero whose name is commemorated on street signs from Paris to Tel Aviv.Skip to next paragraph
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The president arrived Wednesday morning in Stockholm after an overnight flight from Washington, where lawmakers are debating Obama's request for congressional authorization for a military strike against Syria. On Thursday, Obama was scheduled to meet with foreign leaders at the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Greeting Obama at the airport on a mild, sunny morning were Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and leaders of 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 marks the first bilateral visit by a sitting U.S. president to the northern European nation. 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 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 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 the global outrage over the 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 gathered in the streets of Stockholm, including a small group from Amnesty International that demonstrated 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.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed.