Obama tours Europe in search of a firmer strategic alliance | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.05.2011
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Obama tours Europe in search of a firmer strategic alliance

US President Barack Obama's first visit to Europe in 2008 was greeted with widespread euphoria and the inkling of a new beginning. This time around, however, a sense of sobriety pervades transatlantic relations.

US President Barack Obama and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny

Obama praised the strong Irish-American ties

US President Barack Obama reaffirmed America and Ireland's "bonds of affection" on Monday during a speech to tens of thousands of people packed into College Green in the center of the Irish capital, Dublin.

Earlier, President Obama praised the peace process in Northern Ireland as well as the reconciliatory visit by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to the Irish Republic last week.

"I just wanted to express to the Irish people how inspired we have been by the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland. It speaks to the possibility of peace and people in longstanding struggles being able to reimagine their relationships," Obama said.

Helping on the path to recovery

After talks with Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Obama stressed the importance of consolidating the strong Irish-US ties and said the US would support Ireland in its economic recovery.

Enda Kenny

Obama met with Prime Minister Enda Kenny

"What I emphasized is that we want to continue to strengthen the bonds of trade and commerce between our two countries and that we are rooting for Ireland's success and we'll do everything we can to help on the path to recovery."

Obama had earlier visited Moneygall, the tiny village where his great-great-great grandfather was born. Residents of the village, population 350, lined the Main Street eagerly awaiting the arrival of the US president, decking the township out in Obama-themed decorations.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels welcomed Obama's Middle East policy shift, announced during his keynote address last Thursday in Washington.

Obama had called for a jumpstart of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after years of stalemate. In a joint statement, the EU's 27 foreign ministers called for the Quartet group - the US, UN, Russia and the EU - to arrange an early meeting to move peace negotiations forward.

Tight schedule

President Obama will be on a tight schedule, with his time to be split between Ireland, Britain, France and Poland, including a visit to a summit meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) major industrialized economies in the French resort town of Deauville.

The visit is significant as Obama will be looking to revivify a fascination among many Europeans with his presidency, following a year in which many on the continent fell out of love with the man who, it was hoped, would undo eight years of US policy under former President George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama looks on at former president George W. Bush

Obama has tried to steer the US away from Bush-era policies

In practical terms, Obama will also be looking to address cooperation between the US and Europe over the future of the mission in Afghanistan, Middle East policy and support for democracy in the Arab world.

Back to basics

Werner Weidenfeld, an expert on transatlantic ties, said Obama's trip will also be aimed at shoring up the more rudimentary aspects of relations between the US and Europe.

"To construct a strategic alliance, a strategic partnership in all aspects of global affairs, requires infinitely more effort and commitment that has so far been made by the Americans and the Europeans," Weidenfeld told Deutsche Welle.

This was in evidence recently in the United Nations Security Council when Germany abstained from voting on the unfolding crisis in Libya, a move that surprised many in the US. The US-Europe divide has also been seen in Afghanistan policy which, to this day, differs significantly depending on which side of the Atlantic you sit, said Weidenfeld.

"In regards to Afghanistan, both partners, the Americans and the Europeans, have deficits. The Americans have given too little to civil society in the country, while the Europeans have steered away from the hard-power approach preferred by the Americans," said Weidenfeld.

This status quo seems to have changed little under Obama, who has struggled to shed the ideological baggage of his predecessor. That said, the chief goal in Afghanistan is no longer to foster democracy, but rather now to prevent the creation of a state in and from which al Qaeda can plan terrorist attacks.

Afghanistan central to talks

US Marines with NATO forces patrol in a deserted market of Marjah, Afghanistan

US forces are still mired in Afghanistan

Also on the table at talks will be troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and peace talks with the Taliban, which will likely be further addressed at an Afghanistan conference to be held in the German city of Bonn in December.

Wider issues in the Middle East will also be on Obama's mind as he meets with his European allies during the current trip, said Weidenfeld, adding that "Obama knows that no power on Earth is capable of regulating in entirety important issues like the Middle East conflict and other global issues."

There must also be agreement between the US and Europe on the way forward on Libya, as well as on the appointment of a new chief for the International Monetary Fund.

Solid Germany-US relationship

Obama decided not to visit Europe's largest country, Germany, during this visit due to the common perception that ties between Washington and Berlin are in a solid state, and that a visit aimed at improving relations was not needed at this stage.

Furthermore, there were no outstanding issues that could not wait until Deauville on Thursday or Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the US on June 7, when she is due to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / dfm / sk
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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