Obama to talk nuclear disarmament at Brandenburg Gate | News | DW | 19.06.2013
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Obama to talk nuclear disarmament at Brandenburg Gate

White House officials have said that nuclear disarmament will be one of the topics broached by US President Barack Obama during his speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. It's his first trip to the capital as president.

Barack Obama was expected to use his grandstand speech in the German capital on Wednesday to call for further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia.

The two countries reached a deal dubbed "New START" in 2010. Obama's new proposal would apparently seek to reduce warhead numbers by a further one-third.

"The US intent is to seek negotiated cuts with Russia so that we can continue to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," a Washington official told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

Obama, on a 25-hour stopover in Berlin following the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, will speak at the historic Brandenburg Gate - a symbol both of Berlin's division and its subsequent reunification.

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German President Gauck welcomes Obama

The US president's first morning appointment was with German President Joachim Gauck; the two went on to meet a class of schoolchildren at Berlin's John F. Kennedy school - a nod to the significance of the Brandenburg Gate venue.

It is the same site where former US President John F. Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (which the crowd largely understood to mean "I am a citizen of Berlin") and where Ronald Reagan implored the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!"

Berlin was a key stop on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential election campaign trail, but he has not returned to the city since taking office over four years ago.

In the summer of 2008, Obama sought to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, only for Merkel to say that such an honor was reserved for sitting presidents. Instead, some 200,000 people turned out to see the Democrat candidate at Berlin's Victory Column, two kilometers away.

Cold War lessons still to learn

Obama's deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the president would tell the audience how the type of activism seen during the Cold War was still needed 23 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union; on issues such as climate change, counterterrorism and the spread of democratic values around the world. He said the Berlin stage demanded grand ideas.

"This is a place where US presidents have gone to talk about the role of the free world essentially," Rhodes said. "He is seeking to summon the energy and legacy of what's been done in the past and apply it to the issues that we face today."

Obama and Merkel will also hold a joint press conference on Wednesday, talks between Obama and opposition Social Democrat Peer Steinbrück are also scheduled. Merkel's conservatives and Steinbrück's center-left are currently campaigning for Germany's federal election in September.

In his previous presidential visit, Obama toured several German sites other than the capital including Dresden and the Buchenwald World War Two concentration camp.

On his arrival on Tuesday evening, people gathered to wave and take pictures as Obama's motorcade drove past. Some also held protest banners, including one saying "yes, we scan" – a play on the recent revelations of National Security Agency online surveillance and on Obama's famous 2008 campaign catchphrase, once uttered in Berlin.

msh/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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