President Barack Obama's first European trip could dampen his hopes that a new diplomatic style will convert once-reluctant allies into cooperative global partners.
From taking in Guantanamo Bay prisoners to sending more troops into Afghanistan's most difficult regions and spending their way out of economic crisis, European nations remain reticent about some of the toughest U.S. priorities.
Obama jets across the Atlantic on Tuesday on an eight-day, five-country trip that will be dizzying even by the usual peripatetic standards of presidential foreign travel.
The overseas tour will introduce him to the world stage.
He will attend international summits on complex, urgent topics — the global financial meltdown and the downward-spiraling fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He plans individual meetings with leaders important to U.S. strategic interests, from nations including Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and India. Obama also will make his first stop in a Muslim nation, Turkey.
Wildly popular around the globe but relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs, Obama also will squeeze in a Buckingham Palace audience with Queen Elizabeth II, joined by his wife, Michelle; deliver a speech in France on the trans-Atlantic relationship and an address in Prague on weapons proliferation; and holding a round-table session with students in Turkey.
The week before the president's departure was a whirlwind as well.
His administration released long-awaited plans to restart lending by helping banks shed bad loans, overhaul financial industry rules and revamp strategy for the 7-year-old Afghanistan war. Each rollout was crucial to Obama's agenda, but also readied him for discussions with fellow leaders.
When Obama went to Europe last summer as a presidential candidate, he was received like a rock star. His welcome this time is expected to be no less enthusiastic.
Since taking office, Obama has made down payments on several campaign promises that had endeared him to Europe, such as addressing global warming, ending the Iraq war and closing the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Each had stoked acrimony toward former President George W. Bush.
Obama also pledged to listen and consult rather than lecture and dictate. The implication was that countries and their leaders would be more be willing to help if asked differently. "It is important for us to understand that the way we are perceived in the world is going to make a difference, in terms of our capacity to get cooperation," then-candidate Obama said in a presidential debate.
That sort of talk will meet reality this week.
"This is a real test of his leadership," said Reginald Dale, a Europe scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Nile Gardiner, once a foreign policy researcher for former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher and a Europe expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the divide between the U.S. and Europe on stimulus spending, for instance, threatens to be "as big as the trans-Atlantic divide over the Iraq war." He criticized the administration for poorly handling both trip preparations and its relations with traditional allies.
"Obama remains a superstar in the eyes of European publics, and I think that rather drab figures like (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel, for example, or (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown, like to bask in that sort of limelight," Gardiner said. "But that doesn't take away, I think, the fact that we are seeing some significant divisions now emerging."
Obama aides say the president has laid a huge amount of groundwork in a short time for the upcoming meetings and already has seen some success, while noting that fresh cooperation takes time.
"The president and America are going to listen in London as well as to lead," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
One of Obama's first tasks will be to repair a possible rift with Brown. Whether slights by Obama were real or imagined during Brown's Washington visit this month, they have ballooned from the British public's perspective into fears that the staunch U.S. ally is getting short shrift.
Obama's separate meetings, also Wednesday, with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have even higher stakes. Both countries have been newly aggressive toward the U.S., calling for a new global currency to end the dollar's dominance.
The main event in London is Thursday's summit on the global financial crisis among the Group of 20 wealthy and developing nations that together represent 85 percent of the world's economy.
European countries are emphasizing a toughened regulatory system in the U.S., where the problems began, and calling for more internationalized oversight. The U.S. is on board, though officials stress that more robust regulations on exotic financial products and companies' risk-staking should be coordinated internationally rather than controlled.
The Obama administration has talked about roughly commensurate levels of stimulus spending by all wealthy nations. But that idea holds little interest for debt-wary Europeans, and the White House has sought to lower expectations.
Obama's deputy national security adviser for international economics, Michael Froman, said that G20 nations already have enacted recovery and stimulus plans equaling about 1.8 percent of each nation's economic output, about the same as just one piece of the recovery efforts in the U.S., the $787 billion stimulus plan. So, Froman said, "Nobody is asking any country to come to London to commit to do more right now."
The meetings also could present Obama with his first exposure to serious protests, with anti-globalization demonstrators planning a major show of force in London's streets.
By Friday, Obama will be in Strasbourg, France, for a NATO summit heavily focused on Afghanistan.
Obama's new strategy will have about 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by summer. He also is sending in hundreds of civilians and increased aid, while setting new benchmarks for that aid for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama said he expects new troop commitments from other NATO nations, too. But few expect those announcements will involve combat troops going to fight alongside America and just a handful of other countries in dangerous southern Afghanistan. Instead, it is likely that nations will offer mostly more trainers for building up Afghan forces and civilian experts.
Czech leaders were so eager to host Obama that a U.S.-EU summit was hastily scheduled for Prague on Saturday. The Czech Republic holds the rotating European Union presidency.
But since the visit was put together, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek called Obama's economy-boosting spending "the road to hell." And his government fell — the third Eastern European government to do so in six weeks and a major embarrassment for the Czechs.
Still, a major issue there will be whether the United States, in its enthusiasm for "resetting" prickly relations with Moscow, will abandon a Bush plan to build a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic agreed to U.S. requests to base the system in their countries, risking significant ire from Moscow in doing so.