Obama Speaks to Germany on European Ties
Senator Barack Obama spoke at the Tiergarten in Berlin on Thursday.
"Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, waved to the crowd gathered at the Victory Column at Tiergarten Park in Berlin on Thursday. An estimated 200,000 Germans gathered to watch Mr. Obama's speech."
JEFF ZELENY and NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: July 25, 2008
BERLIN — Senator Barack Obama stood before a sea of people here Thursday evening and issued a call for cooperation, imploring America and Europe to bridge differences and rekindle old alliances in an effort to restore global stability and better confront existing and unforeseen threats.
“If we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart and forgotten our shared destiny,” Mr. Obama said. “In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe’s role in our security and our future.”
Pausing for a moment, the Illinois Democrat added: “Both views miss the truth.”
Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who is on a weeklong international tour, delivered his address at the base of the Victory Column in the Tiergarten, a sprawling park in the center of the city.
He looked out toward the Brandenburg Gate, where President Ronald Reagan implored the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” and end the Cold War, and spoke to crowd that the German News Agency DPA estimated at 200,000 people.
“I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before,” Mr. Obama said, confronting the delicate issue of campaigning abroad. “Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen — a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.”
Mr. Obama, as he visits the Middle East and Western Europe, is eager to prove himself on a worldwide stage as a potential leader of the United States, whose image has become tarnished in Europe, largely because of its decision to go to war with Iraq.
He seemed intent on trying to achieve two goals — healing the wounds left by the Bush administration, which dismissed the “old Europe,” and present an image to voters at home as a president whom the world could embrace.
“No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone,” Mr. Obama said. “None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them.”
Linking the battle against terrorism to the struggle of the cold war that defined this city for decades, Mr. Obama spoke directly on the need for more soldiers to fight in Afghanistan, a politically unpopular stance in Germany.
“The Afghan people need our troops and your troops, our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama was warmly embraced by the German press, which frequently referred to his aura, or as the newspaper Bild put it in Thursday’s paper, the “political pop star.”
Manfred Krause, 65, a retired citizen of the former East Germany, said Mr. Obama’s address brought back memories of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quieter visit to East Berlin in 1964, when he was a student. “I thought, here is someone coming from the same place,” he said.
Yet while Mr. Obama was addressing the sprawling crowd, the most important audience was watching in the United States. The television images, which showed Germans and others waving American flags, created a curious tableau that Republicans in the United States sought to seize on.
In his 30-minute address, Mr. Obama did not overtly criticize President Bush or his presumptive Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, but he did offer a gentle dose of criticism of his own nation.
“I know my country has not perfected itself,” he said. “We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. But I also know how much I love America.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, where Mr. McCain campaigned in the nation’s midsection on Thursday, he criticized Mr. Obama for traveling to Germany to deliver the address.
“I’d love to give a speech in Germany — a political speech or a speech that maybe the German people would be interested in,” he told a crowd in Ohio, “but I’d much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate.”
The response to Mr. Obama has been so warm that the coordinator for German-American relations in the foreign ministry here, Karsten D. Voigt, has tried to scale back expectations. He reminded Germans in interview after interview that Mr. Obama would have to support positions unpopular with the German public, like a stronger presence engaged in more fighting for the Bundeswehr, the German army, in Afghanistan.
First and foremost, Mr. Obama is popular because he is not Mr. Bush, who is wildly unpopular in Germany. Asked why they support Mr. Obama, his opposition to the Iraq War usually comes up first.
The excitement in Germany over Mr. Obama has grown steadily through the Democratic primaries, reaching its peak with his address here Thursday in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park. Mr. Obama’s photograph was splashed across the front pages of German newspapers. Leaflets advertising the speech with quotes from President John F. Kennedy — who came to this divided city at the height of the Cold War and urged those who did not believe in freedom: “Let them come to Berlin” — fluttered in the street.
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“Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe,” Mr. Obama said. “No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more — not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.”
Before the speech, Mr. Obama met for about an hour with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Federal Chancellery, followed by an afternoon session with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
A German diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the two sides had agreed to keep the meeting private, said the discussions with Mrs. Merkel went very successfully, saying: “They quickly found themselves on the same page. It was not superficial at all.”
The official said they spoke in English, and sat on a small sofa, rather than at the table, the more usual but also more formal setting for her discussions. The official said that after the discussion they went out onto Mrs. Merkel’s small balcony, and she explained the sights of the government district around the chancellery building, most of which was built since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
In his speech, Mr. Obama addressed the threat of nuclear weapons, Iran and the conflict in the Middle East, offering no new policies, but laying out the challenges facing the United States and other leading nations.
“This is the moment we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East,” Mr. Obama said. “My country must stand with yours and with Europe in sending a direct message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions.”
He added: “Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?”
The crowd was filled with many American citizens, including those who stood in lines to register to vote. But the overwhelming share was made up of German residents, who cheered when Mr. Obama called upon the United States to correct its deeds.
Mr. Obama, who is nearing the final days of his international trip, has navigated a political high-wire for days as he traveled through Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan and Jerusalem. From here he will travel to France and Britain before returning to the United States this weekend.