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2:07 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

Crimea Casts Long Shadow In Amsterdam, Where G7 Leaders Meet

Originally published on Mon March 24, 2014 4:46 pm

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To the Netherlands now, where more than 50 world leaders are attending a major nuclear summit. That group includes President Obama who landed in Amsterdam this morning. The crisis in Ukraine hangs over this trip, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from The Hague.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Moments after Air Force One touched down, President Obama was walking through the cavernous hallways of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam's temple to fine art.

PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE: (Foreign language spoken)

SHAPIRO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte served as tour guide. After the two leaders met privately, each man delivered a statement in front of the museum's crown jewel, a massive Rembrandt painting known as "The Night Watch."

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Of all the press conferences I've done, it's easily the most impressive backdrop that I've had.

SHAPIRO: The painting shows a disjointed band of fighters. A slightly chaotic militia, partially obscured by shadow. That is not the picture President Obama is trying to paint. He described the U.S. and Europe as a strong, solid force - the kind of group Russia would not want to mess with.

OBAMA: Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. We're united on imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far.

SHAPIRO: Dutch Prime Minister Rutte marched in lock step.

RUTTE: We both regard Russia's attempts to annex the Crimea as a flagrant breach of international law, and we condemn its actions in the strongest possible terms.

SHAPIRO: So far, Europe's words have been stronger than its actions. Europe is afraid that harsh sanctions against Russia might damage European economies since there are such tight business connections between the two. One of America's goals here is to nudge Europe towards a more forceful response.

President Obama has several other goals, too. For example, he wants to reassure Europe on this trip that America's much-touted pivot to Asia does not consign Europe to second-tier status. He said this to Prime Minister Rutte.

OBAMA: Europe is the cornerstone of America's engagement with the world.

SHAPIRO: A few hours later, it was a pivot back to Asia - a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

OBAMA: I think it's fair to say that this bilateral relationship is as important any bilateral relationship in the world.

SHAPIRO: One reason Obama can cover so much ground here in Holland is that this nuclear summit brings together 53 countries. This is the third major meeting of its kind. It's been planned for years. And it advances a goal that President Obama set his first year in office: To keep nuclear material out of terrorists' hands.

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SHAPIRO: The nuclear summit opened this afternoon with an over-the-top video reminiscent of some Olympics opening ceremonies. When the camera cut to President Obama, he looked visibly amused.

But the gathering has already produced some tangible results. Japan agreed to get rid of a big stockpile of dangerous nuclear material. Italy and Belgium announced that they've fulfilled commitments they made at the last summit to hand over nuclear materials.

As the day wrapped up, Ukraine kept casting its long shadow. Leaders of the Group of 7 Industrialized Nations met at the Dutch prime minister's residence. Although Russia is at the nuclear summit, Russia was not invited to attend this meeting. Obama called the emergency gathering a few weeks ago, to discuss how to deal with the Ukraine crisis.

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes says it's extraordinary for the G7 to meet in a non-G7 country.

BEN RHODES: I think it speaks to both the need for the G7 to mobilize as an entity to isolate Russia and support the Ukrainian people, but also speaks to Russia's isolation from an organization that they have been a part of now for almost two decades.

SHAPIRO: Rhodes said Russia still has a chance to do the right thing and avoid permanent expulsion from the group. But for the time being, the group decided today that instead of the G8 meeting that was supposed to take place in Russia this June, the Group of 7 will meet in Brussels instead without Russia.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, The Hague.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Stay with us. There's more coverage of Russia and the sanctions being discussed by Western countries on today's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.