The reception for Barack Obama was just what most had been expecting. Hundreds of American flag-waving Baden-Baden residents turned out for the arrival of the US president, many of them chanting "Obama, Obama." German Chancellor Angela Merkel received Obama with full military honors. She was joined by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung and a handful of other political luminaries.
The new US leader, in Germany and France this weekend for the 60th anniversary celebration of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was quick to heap praise on Germany and to praise the tight relationship between Washington and Berlin. "I want to tell all Germans that we are thankful to have such an outstanding ally." He said the partnership with Germany was one of America's most valued.
But it was Obama's comments from earlier in the day that were attracting the most attention on Friday. Not only did the president pledge a renewal of trans-Atlantic relations -- he also said that he seeks to create a world free of nuclear weapons. "This weekend in Prague," he said, "I will lay out an agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons."
Obama made his comments during a speech to a sports arena full of young Germans and French. The stop recalled his ranging town meetings held on the campaign trail last year. This time, though, Obama used the occasion to lay out parts of his foreign policy agenda.
"We must be honest with ourselves," Obama said in comments about NATO. "In recent years, we've allowed the alliance to drift. ... I've come to Europe this week to renew our partnership."
Whispers of Friction
The US president was coming from the G-20 summit, held on Wednesday and Thursday in London. At that meeting, the world's richest nations agreed to make $1 trillion available to the developing world through the World Bank and the International Monetary fund in addition to tripling the money available to the IMF. More significantly from a European perspective, the US agreed to significantly strengthen international oversight of financial markets, with particular attention paid to tax havens, hedge funds and ratings agencies.
It was a move that both Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted upon -- and one which will go a long way toward removing whispers of friction between Obama and Merkel.
Obama spoke directly to trans-Atlantic differences, both past and present, in his Strasbourg speech on Friday. "In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world." He went on to say that "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive."
Still, he insisted, Europe too bears some blame. "In Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans chose to blame America for much of what's bad . On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise."
'A Joint Solution'
Yet for all the feel good rhetoric, Obama also came with a message that Europe will likely not welcome quite as much. At the Afghanistan Conference in The Hague earlier this week, Obama was careful not to make any concrete demands for more troops from his European NATO allies. But on Thursday, he seemed willing to tighten the screws slightly. In addition to warning that al-Qaida still posed a threat, he also said, referring to Afghanistan, that "Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder the burden alone. This is a joint problem that requires a joint solution."
The response from Sarkozy, who was standing right next to Obama, was swift. "There will be no French military enforcements," the French president said. "We are ready to do more in the field of policing, of gendarmes, in the field of economic aid, to train Afghans."
Other NATO countries on Friday, though, said that they would be willing to send more troops. SPIEGEL ONLINE learned from diplomats attending the NATO summit that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown intends to send several hundred more troops to Afghanistan. Both Belgium and Spain are likewise promising more soldiers, though Spain is reportedly planning to send just 12 additional troops.
At a joint press conference with Obama on Friday afternoon, Merkel said that Germany intends to bear its share of the responsibility in Afghanistan, without providing any details.
Europe had long fretted that it would be more difficult to say no to Obama than it was to reject demands from his predecessor, George W. Bush. Yet even as the new administration commences a complete revamp of its Afghanistan strategy, Obama remains wildly popular on the Continent. The cheers in the sports arena in Strasbourg where Obama held his speech were loud and long. Obama-mania was also on full display in Baden-Baden when he arrived as well.
Still, security on both the French and German sides of the border was tight on Friday with the leaders of the rest of the NATO member states set to arrive on Friday afternoon. Protesters were also gearing up for another evening of marches, with much of their ire aimed at NATO, celebrating its 60 anniversary this weekend. The demonstrations got violent on Thursday, with some 100 being hauled in by the police. There were reports of additional arrests on Friday.