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Michelle Obama to Russia, Ghana, Italy, Will Meet Pope Benedict

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First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, along with her mother, Marian Robinson, will join President Obama when he travels to Russia, Italy and Ghana next week. The First Couple will meet with Pope Benedict XVI on July 10 at the Vatican.
The White House announced in May that Mrs. Obama would visit Ghana -- and only recently confirmed that she will be with the president for the entire swing. The president will deliver two major speeches during the trip -- in Moscow, on U.S.-Russia relations, and in Accra, before the Ghanaian parliament.

Not all details about Mrs. Obama's activities on this trip are out yet, but a Wednesday briefing at the White House revealed some of her plans.

This is Mrs. Obama's second overseas trip in less than a month; she, her mom and daughters flew to Paris and London in June, marking Sasha's eighth birthday in London. Malia turns 11 on July 4. The next day, the Obama family flies to Russia aboard Air Force One, landing in Moscow on Monday.

Unlike the Paris and London trip -- basically a vacation for Mrs. Obama, with the exception of a side visit to Normandy to mark the anniversary of D-Day -- this travel is official business.

Once in Moscow, the president will meet with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev, said Denis McDonough, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

"He will hold a press conference that afternoon in Moscow. After the meeting with President Medvedev, then he and the first lady will have dinner Monday evening with President and Mrs. Medvedev.

"They'll overnight in Moscow and the next morning will have breakfast with Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin; will have a meeting with former President [Mikhail] Gorbachev. The president will give a major speech at the New Economic School that afternoon on U.S.-Russia relations. And then the president will hold meetings with a variety of Russian political, business leaders during the course of that afternoon."

On Wednesday morning, it's on to Rome and then to L'Aquila, Italy, for G8 meetings. It's not known yet what schedule, if any, Mrs. Obama will have in connection with the G8 spouses before returning to Rome on Friday for the meeting with the pope. The president will also meet with the Vatican secretary of state.

Next up, McDonough said, is Accra, Ghana, where the presidential party will arrive late Friday evening. On Saturday, the president will attend a series of meetings as well as make a major address in the Ghanaian parliament on development and democracy. After the speech, he and the first lady will tour the Cape Coast Castle, and then leave for Washington.

Michelle Gavin, the White House senior director for African Affairs, said the Ghana stop is an acknowledgement of the nation's stability and that Obama "certainly looks forward to traveling more widely in Africa in the future."

She noted that said the president wanted to emphasize "the importance of governance for stability. And Ghana is a truly admirable example of a place where governance is getting stronger, a thriving democracy. They just had an extraordinarily close election at the end of last year, decided ultimately by about 40,000 votes, that remained peaceful, power was transferred peacefully, and they continue to pursue a development agenda and bolster the rule of law.

"And this is worth pointing out, because far too often discussions of Africa are focused on crisis. Ghana is not in crisis, and it's an example for the region and more broadly."

Mrs. Obama was last in Africa in 2006 when, with her daughters and some of her friends, she flew to Nairobi to join then-Sen. Obama in Kenya, the homeland of his father.


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