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WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Obama, Putin nearby at G-8

Updated at: 06/17/2013 2:35 PM
By JIM KUHNHENN

(AP) ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland - If President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin want some extra quality time together at the Group of 8 meeting, they don’t have to go far.

The U.S. cottage at the Lough Erne resort where the summit is being held is just a few yards from the Russian cottage, the closest U.S. neighbor of all the G-8 delegations.

Upon arrival, Obama stepped out of his limousine and wandered over toward a cottage bearing the Russian flag. The cottages overlook a picturesque lake, and Obama took in the sight, chatted with resort staff then returned to his own cottage.

The proximity is all the more remarkable given the tension over how to deal with Syria between the two leaders, who were meeting on the sidelines of the summit Monday evening. Obama just announced the U.S. will supply military support to Syrian rebels fighting in a civil war. Russia has been supplying arms to the regime of Bashar Assad.

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It’s not easy to separate Obama from the golf links, even if the clubs had to stay back in Washington.

The longing to play, though, is palpable.

Obama and other G-8 leaders are meeting at a 5-star golf resort but Obama’s schedule will keep him from the course designed by Nick Faldo that is a favorite of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.

"I am unhappy that I will not get a few rounds in while I’m here," Obama said Monday in a speech in Belfast.

"I did meet Rory McIlroy last year and Rory offered to get my swing `sorted,’" he added to laughter, " which was a polite way of saying, `Mr. President, you need help.’"

But if he couldn’t get any swings in, Obama at least got to set foot on the course. Flying in from Belfast on Marine One, Obama landed on the fairway of the 14th hole, the rotors of his helicopter kicking up sand from a nearby bunker.

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Presidential daughters Malia and Sasha got a chance to explore their Irish roots in a visit to Dublin Monday and picked up certificates of their heritage from a distant cousin.

First lady Michelle Obama took Malia, 14, and Sasha, 12, to the 18th century Old Library at Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university, where they peered at the birth registry of their ancestors on their father’s side and maps detailing the family’s homestead. Obama’s great-great-great grandfather once lived and worked as a shoemaker in the small central Irish village of Moneygall, which the president and first lady visited two years ago.

The tourists visited the library’s famous Long Room, depicted in the Star Wars series as the home of the Jedi archives. But Sasha had another movie in mind: She thought it looked like something out of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, her mom later told a crowd of Irish youth at Dublin’s historic Gaiety Theatre.

"The girls had a chance to explore those shelves and trace their Irish lineage, which was a very powerful thing to find out that these girls that were born on the South Side of Chicago can trace their roots back here to Ireland, way back to the 1600s," Mrs. Obama said. "That was very powerful for me."

Henry Healy, who the president joked was known as Henry the Eighth because he’s his eighth cousin, presented the first lady and the two Obama daughters with certificates of Irish heritage during their stop in Dublin. He also gave the family drawings of plans for an Obama Park near his ancestral homelands.

"They said, `Oh my God mum, I can’t believe they’re going to build a statue of you,’" Healy said.

Mrs. Obama and her daughters later attended a performance of "Riverdance" at the Gaiety. The first lady urged young people attending the show to dream big "about who you might become and where you might go."

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They’ve played ping pong together. They’ve watched basketball. They’ve kept an eye on the European Champions’ League soccer final last year during the G-8 meeting in Camp David. No doubt, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron like a good competition.

So on Monday, a visit to a local primary school resulted in yet another match _ which world leader could first fill in a letter on a G-8 painting the students were working on.

The site was Enniskillen Integrated Primary School, the only Protestant-Catholic primary school in County Fermanagh, set up in the wake of a 1987 Provisional Irish Republican Army bombing in town that killed 11 and injured 63. Only 6 percent of Northern Ireland’s schools are integrated, and Obama called for more mixed-faith education in a speech earlier in the day.

The president joked with the prime minister as they painted with their sleeves rolled up, "Do you think you can handle this, David?"

Obama chatted with the students as they worked, while Cameron made headway. Soon, Cameron was finished and the teacher called out, "Three cheers for the prime minister. Hip, hip, hooray."

Obama replied, "Now I feel bad. I didn’t realize David was going to move so fast."

Obama refused to admit defeat, insisting: "I’m not as good as these guys, but I’m better than David."

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If the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations have their way, the tie industry may be in trouble.

Whether in closed-door session or striding before cameras along Lough Erne, the leaders are united in freeing their necks from bondage. Onlookers debated whether the leaders had slashed their neckwear budgets in a new round of austerity.

When Cameron assembled the leaders of America, France, Germany, Italy and Ireland and European Union chiefs round the same table to discuss their hopes of an EU-US free trade deal, the British leader had lost his blue blazer from the morning. His white dress shirt was tieless, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. All around him, informality was not up for discussion as every leader had done likewise.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel maintained style points with a teal jacket and navy pencil trousers.

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AP writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)