Obama toasts Nordic nations after
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[May 14, 2016]
By Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack
Obama toasted Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland at a
star-studded state dinner on Friday, lauding the nations for their
global influence on civil rights, humanitarian issues and curbing
(L to R) Mrs. Solrun Lokke Rasmussen and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Prime
Minister of Denmark; Mr. Sindre Finnes and Erna Solberg, Prime Minister
of Norway; Mrs. Ingibjorg Elsa Ingjaldsdottir and Sigurdur Ingi
Johannsson, Prime Minister of the Republic of Iceland; U.S. First Lady
Michelle Obama and U.S. President Barack Obama; Mrs. Jenni Haukioin and
President of Finland Sauli Niinisto; and Mrs. Ulla Lofven and Stefan
Lofven, Prime Minister of Sweden pose for a portrait at the White House
in Washington, U.S., May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
The red carpet glamor followed a White House summit where Obama
and the leaders of the five nations presented a united front against
Moscow's recent military aggression in Ukraine and the Baltic
But the meeting was more about soft diplomacy than launching
ambitious foreign policy endeavors, given that Obama's second and
final term ends in January. Americans will vote in presidential
elections on Nov. 8.
"I thought this was a very useful and important conversation,
although there was probably too much agreement to make for as
exciting a multilateral meeting as I sometimes participate in,"
More than 300 guests including rapper Common, comedian Will Farrell
and actress Tracee Ellis Ross mingled with diplomats, tech and
Fortune 500 CEOs, White House officials, and political donors in a
glass-ceiling tent built around a tree on the South Lawn.
Hand-rolled beeswax candles and strings of lights reflected off
ten-foot pillars of ice, an homage to the northern lights.
Pop star Demi Lovato, known for her support of liberal causes, was
set to perform after a Nordic-inspired meal of ahi tuna, tomato
tartare and red wine-braised beef short ribs.
"It's a great opportunity to drink wine and make progress on the
most serious issues of our time," Samantha Power, the U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters on her way into the
The summit was aimed in part at sending a message to a nation not on
the guest list: Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in
2014 and has stepped up its military posture.
[to top of second column]
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is planning its
biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to try to
deter further Russian aggression, and Denmark and Norway said on
Friday they would contribute to the "enhanced allied forward
presence" with NATO.
"We will be maintaining ongoing dialogue and seek cooperation with
Russia, but we also want to make sure that we are prepared and
strong, and we want to encourage Russia to keep its military
activities in full compliance with international obligations," Obama
said after the summit.
Obama has long expressed admiration for the pragmatic and
liberal-leaning politics of the Nordic nations.
"There have been times where I've said, why don't we just put all
these small countries in charge for a while? And they could clean
things up," Obama said.
(This version of the story corrects the title of Samantha Power in
the eighth paragraph)
(Additional reporting by Alana Wise and Timothy Gardner; Editing by
Richard Chang and Richard Borsuk)
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