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Obama Begins Visit To New York, With A Meeting With Putin On Itinerary

ARUN RATH, HOST:

President Obama has arrived in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly. Obama plans to take advantage of the gathering of world leaders to meet face-to-face with several of his counterparts. The most anticipated meeting he'll hold is with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. It comes as Russia has been getting more involved with the war in Syria, complicating U.S. efforts in the Middle East. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president and joins us now. Scott, at a glance, these two leaders don't seem to have much common ground. What do we expect?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, tomorrow's meeting with Vladimir Putin has all the ingredients of a bad date. I mean, the White House has spent more than a year trying to isolate the Russian president hoping to punish his country for the military takeover of Crimea last year and Russia's ongoing meddling in eastern Ukraine. But now, events in Syria have really forced the White House to sort of rethink that strategy. Russia has been sending tanks and aircraft into Syria to prop up Moscow's longtime ally, Bashar al-Assad. And of course, the administration has been saying for years, Assad has to go. So in effect, Putin has forced his way into the conversation sounding Syria, and so President Obama has somewhat grudgingly agreed to this get together tomorrow.

RATH: And there's also news today that Russia is sharing intelligence with Iraq in an effort to beat back the extremist group who calls itself the Islamic State. What's going on there?

HORSLEY: Yeah. There's an odd convergence here because while the United States and Russia are at odds over the Syrian president, Assad, neither country likes the Islamic State or ISIS getting a foothold in Syria or in next-door Iraq. And so Russia has explained its latest maneuvers in Syria as a reaction to the Islamic State.

Now, I think it's safe to say the American side is skeptical about that, to say the least. Secretary of State Kerry was asked today about this new intelligence sharing plan. And he said the critical thing is that anti-ISIS efforts have to be coordinated. And right now, he says, they're not being coordinated. So Kerry described this U.S.-Russia meeting, his own with his counterpart, the foreign minister, and President Obama's tomorrow with Putin, as the beginnings of a genuine effort to both avoid stepping on one another in Syria and also maybe to find an effective path forward for that country.

RATH: The White House also announced today that President Obama will meet with Cuban president, Raul Castro, on Tuesday. What do we expect from that?

HORSLEY: This will be the first meeting between Obama and Castro since the two countries opened their respective embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C. In a speech to the United Nations yesterday, Raul Castro called for the United States to drop its half-century old trade embargo against Cuba. The administration has eased travel and trade restrictions on Cuba, but it would take an act of Congress to end the embargo there. The U.N. has long opposed the embargo, and the White House argues that the policy that the countries followed for all these decades does more to isolate the United States in the international community than it does to freeze out Cuba.

RATH: Finally, Scott, President Obama spoke at a U.N. summit on global development this afternoon. What did he have to say?

HORSLEY: Well, this is where the United Nations formalized its ambitious development goals to fight poverty and famine and other problems over the next decade and a half. Obama urged his fellow leaders to be ambitious, but he also warned that those efforts could be sidelined by ongoing conflicts and by things like discrimination against women.

RATH: That NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with President Obama in New York. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalist Arun Rath is the new host of the NPR newsmagazine Weekend All Things Considered. The Saturday and Sunday edition has moved its broadcast to the west coast. Rath has had a distinguished career in public media as a reporter, producer and editor, most recently as a senior reporter for the PBS series Frontline and The World® on WGBH Boston. He has also worked for several NPR and public radio programs.
Arun Rath
Beginning in October 2015, Arun Rath assumed a new role as a shared correspondent for NPR and Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH News. He is based in the WGBH newsroom and his time is divided between filing national stories for NPR and local stories for WGBH News.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.