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Obama Evokes Cold War In Speech At Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
Originally published on Wed June 19, 2013 10:18 pm
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. In front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate today, President Obama stood, as he said, along the fault line where a city was divided. In a speech on the former path of the Berlin Wall, Mr. Obama said that while the barbed wire and checkpoints are gone from the city, the struggle for freedom and prosperity continues in many other parts of the world.
And earlier in the day, the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed their differing views on NSA surveillance programs. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The Cold War seemed like ancient history on this sunny, 90-degree day in Berlin. President Obama slipped off his suit jacket moments after arriving at the historic Brandenburg Gate.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can be a little more informal among friends.
HORSLEY: Obama was speaking to a friendly audience on the eastern side of the gate in what used to be communist East Berlin. That's a venue that would have been unthinkable when John F. Kennedy spoke here or when Ronald Reagan issued his famous challenge to the Soviets to tear down this wall. Obama said he's proud to stand in this unified city and pay tribute to that past.
OBAMA: We can say here in Berlin, here in Europe, our values won. Openness won. Tolerance won and freedom won.
HORSLEY: Obama cautioned, though, Americans and Europeans should not be complacent about that two-decade-old victory, nor should they turn a blind eye to those still fighting for freedom elsewhere. Just as the Berlin airlift provided a lifeline to those trapped behind the Iron Curtain in the last century, he said the West should now lend its support to people seeking a better life in Afghanistan, Burma and the Middle East.
OBAMA: In this century, these are the citizens who long to join the free world. They are who you were. They deserve our support, for they, too, in their own way, are citizens of Berlin and we have to help them.
HORSLEY: Obama says the allies who won the Cold War now have to tackle more amorphous challenges, including inequality and nuclear proliferation. He called for the U.S. and Russia to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by another third beyond the cuts in the New START Treaty signed three years ago. He also said the U.S. should follow Europe's lead in taking serious action against climate change.
OBAMA: This is the global threat of our time and for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late.
HORSLEY: Only about 4,500 people were invited to attend the president's speech today, a tiny fraction of the 200,000 Germans who came to hear Obama speak when he was running for president five years ago. Security crews kept most ordinary Berliners at least half a mile away. Seventy-one year old Carl Heinz-Peeper(ph) recalled hearing Kennedy speak in person half a century ago.
CARL HEINZ-PEEPER: (Speaking foreign language)
HORSLEY: I stood not far from here charged with emotion, Peeper said, that's how a president should speak to a people. What did we get today? Sweltering heat and absolutely nothing else. It's really disappointing. Obama remains personally popular in Germany. A recent Pew Poll shows nearly nine out of ten Germans trust him to do the right thing in world affairs. Still, many Germans are unhappy about the newly revealed surveillance efforts of America's National Security Agency.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said, through an interpreter, she raised that issue with Obama in their meeting earlier today.
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) Although we do see the need for gathering information, there needs to be due diligence also as we guarantee proportionality. Free liberal democracies live off people having a feeling of security.
HORSLEY: Obama says he hopes to declassify more information about the surveillance, which he insists has foiled terrorist threats, including some directed at Germany. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.