Obama toasts Nordic nations after Russia-focused summit
WASHINGTON: 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 climate change.
The red carpet glamour 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 region.
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," Obama said.
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 US Ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters on her way into the dinner.
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.
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.