STOCKHOLM (AP) — It took a very public falling out between Russia and the United States for Sweden to get its first visit from a U.S. president for a bilateral meeting. Here’s a look at what Barack Obama’s visit says to the country that wasn’t snubbed.
IT’S A CONVENIENT STOP
Obama is going to the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5-6. A stopover in Stockholm makes sense geographically as it’s only an hour away from the Russian port city by plane. He could have chosen an even closer destination by visiting one of the three Baltic countries, but he’s already set to receive their presidents at the White House a week earlier.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted on Wednesday that Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president in history to make a “truly bilateral visit” to the country. George W. Bush went to the Swedish city of Goteborg in 2001, but that was to attend a riot-marred summit with European leaders. Obama has already paid visits to Scandinavian neighbors Denmark and Norway, where he collected the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
A LOT IN COMMON
Sweden seems to have climbed the rankings of U.S. allies since the presidency of Bush, whose foreign relations prioritized countries that sent troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Sweden did not. During the Cold War, relations were complicated by neutral Sweden’s reluctance to join NATO and its fierce criticism of the Vietnam War. Jan Joel Andersson, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, said that under the Obama administration and Sweden’s current center-right government U.S.-Swedish relations have reached an all-time high, with common views on “free trade, openness and quest for democracy in the world.”
Obama has indicated he will pay more attention to cutting carbon pollution and fighting climate change during his second term, issues that have been high on Sweden’s agenda for many years. The country introduced a carbon tax in 1991 and gets about half of its energy from renewable sources, including hydropower and biomass. The U.S. Embassy in Stockholm is trying to promote trade, research and investments in clean technology between the two countries.
WHAT CRITICS SAY
Swedes who oppose U.S. foreign policy are already urging Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to raise thorny issues with Obama, such as the Guantanamo detention camp, drone strikes and the NSA surveillance program. The Swedish government has not made a big fuss about the latter.
Some critics see Obama’s upcoming Sweden visit in light of the investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for more than a year to avoid being extradited to Sweden on sex crimes allegations — or to the U.S. to be prosecuted for publishing government secrets. Many WikiLeaks supporters claim Obama’s visit is a ploy to get Assange handed over to the U.S., but Assange’s alleged victims deny that.
AP correspondent Malin Rising contributed from Stockholm.