The Campaign Comes to Berlin: Obama Calls for Greater European Role in War on Terror
The superstar has landed. US Senator Barack Obama has now met with Germany's chancellor, its foreign minister and Berlin's mayor. Enormous crowds are gathering as the presidential candidate prepares to address them.
Germany meets the Superstar: US presidential candidate Barack Obama stands facing the Reichstag in Berlin.
Would he drive to the Chancellery in a motorcade or would he take a helicopter for his visit to Chancellor Angela Merkel? Obama's charter jet had barely touched down at Berlin's Tegel Airport, and reporters were already asking the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate how he planned to get around the city.
Then he stepped into a sedan -- part of a long motorcade, accompanied by US security vehicles and German police -- and began the journey to downtown Berlin, with hundreds of fans standing by as he made his way. Obama briefly greeted a crowd assembled on the street before disappearing into the Chancellery. As she greeted the presidential candidate, Merkel said she was hoping to have a good conversation with Obama.
The talks between the German leader and Obama lasted for about an hour, and the pair reportedly discussed climate protection, global trade and German-American relations. Just after 12 p.m., the Illinois senator and his entourage traveled about a half a mile further to the Adlon Hotel near the Brandenburg Gate before a afternoon meeting planned with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats.
Obama finally arrived at the Foreign Ministry a little after 2 p.m. and emerged almost an hour later. Immediately following the meeting, Steinmeier announced: "The atmosphere was open and trusting. We built on our telephone conversation from mid-April." Steinmeier said he detected parallels in their philosophy of foreign policy. "Cooperation instead of confrontation -- that is also his foreign policy aim," adding that it had been a good conversation.
Following his meeting with Steinmeier, Obama met with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit for 20 minutes in his hotel. The two discussed the US elections, integration in Germany and the city's economy. According to the German news agency DDP, Wowereit gave Obama a porcelain bear -- the symbol of the city -- as a gift, and Obama signed the city guest book, thanking the mayor and city officials for "this open-hearted welcome" and calling the city "a symbol for the victory of hope over fear."
At 7 p.m., Obama plans to give a major address on trans-Atlantic relations at the Siegesäule, or Victory Column, in Berlin's Tiergarten park. The speech is the only one Obama is holding during his one week tour of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and European capitals. By late afternoon, crowds had already begun converging on the site to wait for his speech.
According to Obama's advisors, the candidate is expected to call on Europeans to increase their role in the war on terror. Obama is expected to ratchet up its efforts in that campaign, an advisor told Reuters. Obama has already announced that he plans to send more US troops to Afghanistan. He is also expecting greater contributions from America's NATO allies in Europe.
In an interview published earlier this week in SPIEGEL, Obama foreign policy advisor Susan Rice called on NATO to increase its troops and "to the greatest extent possible" to "lift operational restrictions." Though Rice did not mention Germany specifically, Berlin has drawn criticism in the US and Canada for refusing to send troops into the hotly contested southern part of the country where the Taliban insurgency has grown in strength. Instead Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are restricted to peacekeeping and rebuilding in the relatively safe northern part of the country.
Merkel and Steinmeier have both pointed out that Germany is already doing a considerable amount in Afghanistan and other crisis regions. They have reminded Obama that Germany plans to increase its mandate in Afghanistan by an additional 1,000 soldiers this autumn, bringing the total figure to about 4,500. Recently, Germany also took command of a Quick Reaction Force, which is expected to deploy in crisis situations.
In Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the last stop on his trip before traveling to Germany, Obama said he did not intend to hold a stump speech in Berlin. The 46-year-old said, "The people in the crowd will not be voters."
Before arriving in Berlin, Obama told reporters accompanying him on the campaign jet that he hoped the speech "will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship I would like to see between the United States and Europe" and that it would "communicate across the Atlantic the value of that relationship and how we need to build on that," according to the AP.
When asked how his speech might have symbolic values like those of US presidents who gave famous speeches in Berlin in the past, Obama answered: "They were presidents, I am a citizen. But obviously Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of the post-World War II effort to bring the continent together ... so I think it is a natural place to talk about."
Initially Obama wanted to hold his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, but the proposal drew widespread criticism in Germany. Given its charged history, Chancellor Merkel said, through a spokesperson, she thought the choice had been "odd." And even today, criticism continues about the hubris of holding a speech on such a grand scale when he hasn't even been elected president yet.
"If a person who hasn't even been nominated as the official candidate is allowed to hold an address like an elected president, then one has to ask the question: What's going to happen if a truly elected president (like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demands the same?" Peter Ramsauer, the head of Bavaria's Christian Social Union party, told the Schwäbische Zeitung newspaper. "Are we allowing Germany's great sights to become stages for the American election?" He said he would have expected "better instincts on the part of Obama's campaign managers."
Others were less dismissive. Former German President Richard von Weizsäcker told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper he hoped the speech could help create a new dynamic in the trans-Atlantic partnership.
Meanwhile, speaking to public broadcaster ARD, former US Ambassador to Germany John Kornblum called for a little more sobriety in the debate over Obama. He said it would be best if Obama sought to avoid the kind of striking statements made by US presidents who have spoken in Berlin in the past. "Friendliness isn't everything," he said. "We have many very serious problems in the world," and Obama will lay out some basic conditions for Europe. "He is going to expect something from the Germans," the former ambassador said. But Kornblum said he also expected a US government under a possible president Obama to more accessible and more willing to come to the negotiating table than the Bush administration has been.
Karsten Voigt, the German government's coordinator for German-US relations, offered similar comments in an interview with Südwestrundfunk public radio on Thursday morning. He noted that the Americans expect more help from Europe in crisis-solving -- in the Balkans or in Afghanistan, for example. Words might be firm during the campaign, but once the dust settles, he said, "the Americans will come to the Germans and say, we want to consult more deeply with you. But they of course are also going to do this because they want to unload some of their burdens."
Meanwhile, the foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, Eckart von Klaeden, told RBB-Inforadio public radio he didn't share the expectation of many German politicians that there would be a major shift in foreign policy under Obama.
"Regardless whether it is a President McCain or a President Obama, people will quickly determine that the trans-Atlantic relationship will not be transformed to the degree that many are expecting."
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