24 jul. 2008

Obama to press Europe on security in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama is expected to call on Europe to do more in hotspots like Afghanistan when he speaks in Berlin on Thursday in his only formal address of a week-long foreign tour.
Obama held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues ranging from the global economy to Iran, Iraq and Middle East peace on a trip he hopes will burnish his foreign policy credentials and boost his election chances against Republican challenger John McCain.
His evening speech at the "Victory Column" in Berlin's Tiergarten park is already being compared in the German media to former President John F. Kennedy's 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" address.
Thousands of Germans and some tourists, wearing Obama buttons, "Yes We Can" t-shirts and carrying campaign balloons, streamed towards the podium where he will speak. Under sunny skies, people drank beer and ate sausages in a summer party atmosphere.
"Obama stands for political change," said Dero Steinbach, 49, from the western city of Gelsenkirchen, who was visiting Berlin with his family.
"For him this is clearly a way to boost his foreign policy profile, but it's also good for Germany. It's quite special that he's chosen to speak here."
In the 45-minute open-air appearance, Obama will ask Europe to shoulder more of the burden to help deal with global security threats, an aide to the Democratic senator told Reuters.
Obama has described the situation in Afghanistan as precarious and both he and McCain have said Europe must step up its efforts there. Merkel has said there are limits to what Germany, which has about 3,500 troops in Afghanistan and expects to raise that later this year, can do.

Relations between the United States and Germany reached a post-war low under Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, who strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But the conservative Merkel, who grew up behind the Wall in the communist East, has worked hard to repair ties and emerged as one of President George W. Bush's closest allies in Europe.
Robert Gibbs, a senior strategist for Obama, said the candidate and Merkel had discussed a range of international issues in their one-hour chat, in particular the "urgency" of stopping Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.
Obama applauded Merkel for promoting international efforts to combat climate change and affirmed his own pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, Gibbs said.
Merkel opposed the Obama campaign's initial plan to hold Thursday's speech at the Brandenburg Gate, the historic landmark that stood on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall for decades and became a potent symbol of the Cold War.
She has said the landmark -- where President Ronald Reagan famously urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" -- is a place for presidents, not candidates to speak and her advisers tried to convince the Obama campaign to hold the speech at a university or another low-key location.
A Pew Research Center poll showed Germans favor Obama over McCain by a 49-point margin. But some German officials have said Obama, who could become the first black U.S. president, risks disappointing Europeans because their expectations are so high.
Around 700 policemen are helping with security around the "Siegessaeule", a 230-foot (70-meter) high column built to celebrate 19th century Prussian military victories over Denmark, France and Austria.