Wednesday, September 04, 2013

In Sweden, A Defining Moment For President Obama At The Official Dinner Hosted By Prime Minister Reinfeldt

After a feast of traditional delicacies, the Nordic coalition declares overwhelming support for the transatlantic partnership...and US military action in Syria...
Stockholm, Sweden - President Barack Obama on Wednesday evening stayed for close to an hour longer than scheduled at an Official Dinner in his honor hosted by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt at his formal residence, The Sager House.  He arrived at the 17th century palace on the north bank of the Norrström River at 7:04 PM to join Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
The brief stop-over in Sweden on the way to Russia for the G-20 Summit was an historic moment:  President Obama is the first sitting American president to visit for bilateral talks, a fact that delighted the city's citizens, who lined the streets of the capital during the breezy, sunny day to wave at the motorcade.  

The two-and-a-half hour dinner was equally historic, the six leaders declared in a joint statement after the feast of locally sourced, traditional Swedish delicacies, calling the meeting "a defining moment in the transatlantic relationship."

During the closed-press affair, the leaders said they discussed "important shared global priorities, including climate change and clean energy, the Arctic, a strong, open multilateral trading system, emerging security challenges, global development and humanitarian assistance, and Europe's regional economic and security environment."  

Clad in the same dark suit he'd worn earlier in the day to tour Stockholm with the Prime Minister, President Obama posed for a "family photo" with the leaders before sitting down for the defining-moment dinner, standing in the center of the group and smiling broadly.

The conversation began over lightly smoked Landö char with Kalix bleak roe, and continued over the entree, saddle of venison with black chanterelles, game jus, frosted lingonberries, and chestnuts, accompanied by Brussels sprouts, chanterelles and almond potato wedges. Dessert was a frozen Passion fruit mousse with fresh raspberries, blueberries and blackberries,

After centuries of good relations, four million Americans now claim Swedish heritage, the President and Prime Minister both pointed out during the day as they praised each other for taking action on climate initiatives and moving forward on trade agreements.

Reinfeldt, 48, is the leader of the centrist Moderate Party and a former chair of the European Union.  He has held office since 2006, and has visited Mr. Obama at the White House.  He was reelected in 2010, riding a wave of popularity thanks to leading Sweden to become the strongest economy in Europe. (Above, Reinfeldt and the President take in the view)

Just before dinner, back home in Washington the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Syria. 

"The United States and the Nordic countries share the goal of a stable and peaceful Middle East," the leaders said in their dinner statement.   "...With regard to the situation in Syria, we strongly condemn any and all use of chemical weapons, and we are convinced a strong international reaction is required. Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable."

At a joint press conference earlier on Wednesday at Rosenbad, the seat of government, Reinfeldt had already declared his support for the President's position on Syria, in word if not deed.  

"Those responsible should be held accountable," Reinfeldt said, but added that "Sweden believes that serious matters concerning international peace and security should be handled by the United Nations."   

The President, for his part, waxed poetic about the "spectacular" beauty of the metropolis.

"Like so many who’ve come here, I feel Stockholm in my heart," President Obama said as he stood beside Reinfeldt, smiling.  Paying the ultimate compliment to his host, he said "I’m sure that I’ll want to bring back my family to have a visit some time in the future."

The President's busy day with the Prime Minister included an event at the Great Synagogue in Stockholm honoring Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and businessman who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis.  The President wore a white yarmulke as he looked at artifacts from Wallenberg's life, joined by his 92-year-old half-sister, Nina Lagergren (above)

After, there was a solemn moment as Reinfeldt escorted the President to the imposing gray Holocaust Memorial wall outside the temple, engraved with the names of more than 8,000 Holocaust victims related to Swedish Jews, according to the White House.  Wednesday was the first night of Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year and the start of the High Holy Days, and the President noted it in brief remarks.

"To all our Jewish friends here in Sweden, in the United States and around the world – especially in Israel – I want to wish you and your families a sweet and happy new year," he said.  "L’Shanah Tovah."

The dinner menu reflected no Jewish traditions, but instead was "based on traditional Swedish flavours and comprises mainly locally produced ingredients," said the Prime Minister's office. 

After the dinner, the President returned to the luxurious Grand Hotel, on Stockholm's waterfront overlooking the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan, the city's old town.  

He arrived by motorcade at 9:47 PM local time, with crowds lining the streets as they had earlier in the day.

On Thursday morning, the President will meet with the King and Queen of Sweden at the Royal Palace before depart Stockholm, heading for Saint Petersburg, Russia.  He will remain there overnight.

Above, the President speaks with Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden during the morning arrival ceremony at Stockholm-Arlanda International Airport.  He visited the US Embassy after arriving for a meet and greet with staff.

The President's press conference with the Prime Minister and the Wallenberg ceremony:

*Photos by Pete Souza/White House; family photo courtesy of the Swedish Government.  White House videos.