- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

UPDATED, 11:08 a.m.

BERLIN (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as climate and energy issues at Germany’s chancellery Thursday, part of a tour aimed at lifting the first-term senator’s international standing.

Their meeting featured “very open” and wide-ranging talks, Merkel spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said in a statement issued after the hourlong session. Obama and Merkel also stressed the “great significance of close and friendly German-American relations,” he said.

Other topics included Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, the trans-Atlantic economic partnership, the global economy and “the need for cooperation on the international level and in international organizations to solve important global questions,” Wilhelm said.

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AP LIVE FEED:Obama’s Berlin speech begins at 1 p.m. (for Internet Explorer users only)

The highlight of Obama’s schedule was an evening speech in front of the Tiergarten’s 226-foot high Victory Column before a crowd predicted to be in the tens of thousands.

Aboard his chartered campaign jet, Obama told reporters: “Hopefully it will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship I would like to see between the United States and Europe. … I am hoping to communicate across the Atlantic the value of that relationship and how we need to build on that.”

Not surprisingly, Obama sought to limit comparisons to famous speeches that Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan made in Berlin during the Cold War.

“They were presidents, I am a citizen,” he said, “but obviously Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of the post-World War II effort to bring the continent together and bring the West together and then later to bring the East and the West together. And so I think it is a natural place to talk about.”

In a statement, the Obama campaign said the candidate welcomed Merkel’s “leading role in promoting international efforts on climate change and affirmed his own pledge to pursue an 80 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” In a separate meeting with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Obama emphasized that the United States should remain involved in talks to end Iran’s nuclear program and combine diplomacy with multilateral sanctions. Obama flew to Berlin from the Middle East, where he had toured the Holy Land and met with leaders of Israel and the Palestinians. A column of black BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars ferried Obama from the Tegel Airport to the chancellery, which sits across from the city’s famed glass-domed Reichstag.

Overhead, a police helicopter kept watch. Some 700 police were being deployed during Obama’s visit, which lasts through Friday morning.

Obama paused inside the gates of the chancellery to wave to a group of Bavarian 11th-graders whose class happened to be ending a tour of the building.

“We were really close,” said an excited Michaela Schmid. “It was super, a real highlight.” Vernon Thomas, an 18-year-old from Omaha, Neb., who waited outside to see Obama, said he was astounded by the support for the Democrat in Germany.

“There are more people to see him here in Berlin than in my hometown,” said Thomas, who said he has seen Obama speak twice in Omaha. “I think he’s trying to show that he is capable of handling things overseas.”

The chancellery is an imposing sandstone and concrete cube. The 205,000-square-foot building faces the restored Reichstag in the heart of Berlin’s new government quarter. It dwarfs the White House and has more than three times the area of the French president’s Elysee Palace in Paris.

Inside, Obama and Merkel shook hands and exchanged small talk before going into her office. On Wednesday, Merkel told reporters Germany will stand by its refusal to send combat troops to southern Afghanistan. Obama’s motorcade drew cheers from knots of people along his route from the government building to the Hotel Adlon, the hotel where President Bush stayed in 2002 and, later that year, where pop singer Michael Jackson drew criticism for holding his child out a window from his room.

As Obama got out of his car, one man yelled out in English, “Yes we can!” the senator’s campaign refrain.

The hotel was closed off for 10 minutes while police checked a suspicious package it was found to contain only a book. It was unclear whether Obama was in the building at the time.

Later Thursday, Obama met with Steinmeier at his office in the Foreign Ministry. Steinmeier called for strengthened trans-Atlantic cooperation above all on issues such as the environment, climate and disarmament, his spokesman Jens Ploetner said. Steinmeier and Obama talked about Germany’s commitment in Afghanistan and its focus on combining civilian reconstruction with military protection, the spokesman said.

Obama’s speech at the Victory Column has symbolic value because several U.S. presidents, including Bill Clinton, have made significant addresses in Berlin.

Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker said the Obama event could help pave the way for a new trans-Atlantic relationship.

“Kennedy said the famous sentence, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,”’ von Weizsaecker told the Bild newspaper. “Obama could send the Berlin signal: America is counting on Europe for its future.”

“We have long believed that nobody in America is interested in our continent any more,” von Weizsaecker added. “The appearance and the speech of Barack Obama are evidence that this preconception is false.”

Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report.

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