Obama to skip EU-US summit in Spain

Other News Materials 1 February 2010 23:04 (UTC +04:00)
US President Barack Obama will not attend the EU-US summit hosted by Spain in May, a US official confirmed Monday.
Obama to skip EU-US summit in Spain

US President Barack Obama will not attend the EU-US summit hosted by Spain in May, a US official confirmed Monday.

US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told reporters that it was not in Obama's plans to make the trip for the annual summit but that he remained committed to building stronger trans-Atlantic relations.

"A summit in Spain wasn't on his agenda in the first place," Gordon said.

EU officials had earlier expressed disappointment about the possibility of Obama's absence.

"It is normally the case that the summits are summits precisely because they are attended by heads of state and government," European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told reporters in Brussels.

Spain, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, had scheduled the annual EU-US summit for May 24.

Obama paid a record number of visits - six - to Europe in 2009, including major events such as NATO's 60th anniversary in April and the Copenhagen conference on climate change in December. Obama also hosted a meeting in November with Swedish leaders in Washington while the country was heading the EU presidency.

"The president as you all know has travelled to Europe in his first year probably more than any president has ever done in the past," Gordon said.

But Obama's decision to pass on this gathering comes as his domestic agenda has faltered and his job approval ratings at home have suffered as the economic recovery has not translated into more jobs.

The election of a Republican in the state of Massachusetts on January 20 to replace longtime Democrat Ted Kennedy, who passed away last year, could endanger his hard fought legislation for health care reform.

Since 1997, the EU and US have held an annual summit, with a rough rotation between meetings on either side of the Atlantic. The decision to skip the summit would be a severe blow for the EU, which is struggling to present itself as a reliable partner for US foreign policy.

In particular, it would be painful for Spain, which had hoped to host the high-profile guest, and for the new president of the council of EU member states, Herman Van Rompuy, who has not yet met formally with Obama.