Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Obama state visit: Afghanistan and Libya top of agenda

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

Barack Obama will pressure David Cameron this week not to begin scaling back British forces' involvement in Afghanistan later this year.

The US president, who arrives at London Stansted tomorrow to begin a full state visit to Britain, after a quick stop-off in Ireland today, will seek the Prime Minister's backing for a tougher stance on a range of international and security issues from "AfPak" (Afghanistan-Pakistan) and combating homegrown terrorism to missile defence in the former Soviet Union. Mr Cameron will, in return, seek deeper American commitment for Nato action in Libya, where Britain and France seek help towards an exit strategy from the conflict.



The two leaders will use Mr Obama's visit this week to announce plans to establish a joint national security taskforce to develop new strategies on defence, international aid and foreign policy in areas where they do not already co-operate – away from Afghanistan or Libya, for example, and looking more towards future threats.





It comes at a time when both Governments privately admit they were ill-prepared for the speed and extent of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.



Mr Obama will expect support for the tough line taken with Pakistan following the controversy over the Bin Laden raid, and also seek to ensure that the UK does not pull out too many troops from Afghanistan once the "drawdown" starts this summer. The Americans are also keen for the British to play a longer-term training role for Afghan forces beyond the scheduled date for end of combat operations in 2014.



Washington wants London to exercise greater control over extremist Islamist influences within Britain, many of whom are of Pakistani descent. American politicians and security agencies continue to claim that Britain remains a centre for jihadist indoctrination and recruitment.



The flow of intelligence from the US to Britain will also remain restricted until UK law is changed – such exchanges were curtailed after judges in London ordered MI6 to hand over information supplied by the CIA to the legal team of former Guantánamo inmate Binyam Mohamed. For now, US officials have agreed that any information they have about a direct threat to the UK will be passed on, with redactions where necessary in case it becomes public due to court instructions.



The issue of siting missiles in Poland, which Mr Obama will visit next, is also likely to be on the agenda. The US administration has abandoned George W Bush's version of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, but will place the Patriot missile system, a defensive system, there.



The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, demanded at the weekend that Nato give a written undertaking that the missiles will not be a threat to his country. Another Obama request will be that the UK, which has built up good relations with Moscow under Cameron, helps to reassure Moscow about this. Mr Cameron will work hard to gain Mr Obama's help on Libya. The US has been anxious not take the military lead on unseating Gaddafi. Although a visit to Washington by Defence Secretary Liam Fox and the head of the military General Sir David Richards led to Mr Obama authorising the use of Predators, the Americans have not been as vociferous in the backing of the rebel leadership. Robert Gates, the outgoing US Defence Secretary, said much more needed to be learnt about the composition of the opposition and that claims of Islamist fighters in their rank needed to be investigated.



However, the shared military burden in Afghanistan and Iraq will be much stressed at a barbecue in Downing Street in which Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama, with their husbands in attendance, will serve burgers and sausages to British and American service personnel and their families. The new joint security taskforce will be led by Peter Ricketts, the Government's National Security Adviser, and his opposite number in the American administration Tom Donilon.



Yesterday in an interview with the BBC ahead of the visit, Mr Obama admitted that any longer-term strategy for both countries would involve talking to the Taliban. "We're not going to militarily solve this problem," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.



The itinerary



Today



The presidential visit begins this morning when President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle touch down at Dublin, above, after a flight on Air Force One.



The couple will travel to the Palladian splendour of Aras an Uachtarain, President Mary McAleese's official residence in Dublin. Later today the couple will make a 45-minute trip by helicopter to the President's ancestral village of Moneygall, above, 40 miles outside of Dublin, where the presidential entourage will outnumber residents by a sizeable margin. Once back in Dublin, the President will speak at an open-air rally on College Green



Tomorrow



The Obamas are to fly from Dublin to Stansted where they will be met by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who will escort them to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen for a full ceremonial welcome. They'll return to the palace later for a state dinner and spend the first of two nights there, reportedly in the lavish Belgian suite. In the afternoon, the first couple will travel to Westminster Abbey for a wreath-laying service before the President heads off for a meeting with David Cameron, above. He'll also meet the Labour leader Ed Miliband – but has no space in his diary for Nick Clegg.



Wednesday



In the morning, the President will meet Mr Cameron again, this time for bilateral talks. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron will be preparing for their jointly hosted barbecue at No 10 to honour military families from the US and UK. Mr Obama and Mr Cameron have said they will "drop in" to the party, before holding a joint press conference. Later in the day, President Obama is to address both houses in Parliament, a rare honour bestowed on few visiting world leaders.



The Obamas will then prepare for another formal dinner, this time in honour of the Queen at Winfield House, the residence of the US Ambassador in London.



Thursday



The President and First Lady depart from Stansted for Deauville, France.



The Obama entourage



24 The number of vehicles in the President's convoy



100 armed bodyguards will protect the Obamas during their four-day state visit to Britain



170 guests are expected at Buckingham Palace for tomorrow's dinner



On the agenda

"Afpak" The Americans want the UK to stay committed to Afghanistan in the long-term – that means not starting to pull out troops later this year – and support its tough line on Pakistan harbouring terrorists



Terrorism in Britain The US wants the UK to do more to combat extremism among British Muslims. Washington also wants guarantees that the British authorities will better protect the information supplied by American intelligence agencies from disclosure ordered by the courts.



Libya The UK wants the US to show more public commitment in getting rid of Muammar Gaddafi. But the US administration remains sceptical about the rebel government in Benghazi.



Middle-East President Obama will seek Mr Cameron's support on Israel returning to the pre-1967 borders. But British influence on Israel/Palestine is limited.



Missiles and Russia The US wants Britain to reassure Moscow about the siting of Patriot missiles in Poland.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz