Obama denies G20 split, sets new foreign policy aims


London : US President Barack Obama rejected Wednesday talk of deep divisions between the world’s big economic powers gathering in London for a summit on the global economic crisis, while he also laid out new foreign policy directions for his administration.

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The differences between world leaders attending the Group of 20 (G20) meeting of the leading industrialised nations and emerging economies had been “vastly overstated”, Obama said at a joint press conference with G20 host, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On his first major foray onto the world stage since becoming president, Obama agreed at his first meeting with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev for talks on a new nuclear arms deal as part of an effort to lay aside the recent tensions in Washington-Moscow relations.

The G20 meeting is to open with a reception at Buckingham Palace Tuesday followed by a working dinner in Downing Street, the office and residence of Brown.

For many world leaders, however, the London summit represents their first chance to meet the new US chief executive, with Obama scheduled to hold a series of bilateral talks, including with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In his remarks to reporters, Obama raised hopes for a more open dialogue with Iran as well as calling for steps to secure a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis and to stabilise and rebuild Afghanistan along with Pakistan.

The leaders from the G20 nations, which also include France and Germany as well China and India, were arriving in London for the summit against the backdrop of an unprecedented security alert in the British capital to deal with mass demonstrations.

Amid skirmishes with police, about 4,000 demonstrators converged on the Bank of England in London’s financial centre, smashing the windows of banks and offices and chanting “shame on you” and “storm the banks.”

Ahead of the summit, bankers have been advised to “dress down” for the day as landmark buildings, shops and hotels have been boarded up in preparation for the protest.

At their joint press conference, both Brown and Obama emphasised their concerns for the human fallout from recession and called on the summit to agree to reforming the rules governing global markets.

Commenting on reports of a rift between the US and Europe over Washington’s calls for additional fiscal stimulus packages to help spur growth, Obama said governments around the world have launched their own plans for warding off the recession.

“I think there’s broad recognition that in the midst of the greatest crisis we have seen since the ’30s, that governments are going to have to act, and certainly the US does not intend to act alone – and we are not,” said Obama.

Acknowledging that 2009 was likely to be difficult year for people around the world, Obama said that people were concerned about “losing their jobs, losing their homes losing their savings and losing their pensions.

“We have a responsibility to act with a sense of urgency,” said Obama.

Brown and the US leader said they would do all what was necessary to return the global economy to a growth path.

Both Obama and Brown also stressed the need for the G20 to move to beef up global market regulation to bring it into line with the fast-paced globalisation, including extending the regulatory net to take in investments such as hedge funds.

Referring to the new tighter market regulatory regime unveiled in Washington last week Obama said his administration has proposed a set of “21st century rules of the road” for financial markets.

At the press conference, Brown said that he and Obama had agreed that the world leaders had to clean up the banking system so that an economic recovery could take hold.

But the two leaders also expressed optimistism about the London summit reaching agreement on world market reform and improved international economic co-ordination to tackle the global recession.

Shrugging off reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had threatened to “walk out” of the summit if Franco-German demands on tighter regulation are not met at the meeting, Brown said he was sure that the French leader would remain at the meeting.