World Looks to Washington as Obama Takes Office | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 20.01.2009
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World Looks to Washington as Obama Takes Office

Hundreds of thousands of spectators streamed into Washington Tuesday, for the swearing in of America's first black president. Still, some have cautioned against overly high expectations.

Sean Scott of Bridgeport, Conn., waits on the National Mall in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, for the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama

Obama has the hopes of the nation on his shoulders

Barack Obama was set to take the oath of office in the capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 20, swearing to "preserve, protect and defend" the US constitution.

Hopes were high that the new president would improve ties between the United States and the rest of the world, according to a BBC poll of 17 countries. Ghanaians were most optimistic, with 87 percent saying they believed in an improvement, followed by Italy (79 percent), Germany and Spain (78 percent) and France (76 percent).

Merkel hopes for cooperation

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday in a television interview that she, too, was hoping for ameliorated US-German relations under Obama.

President-elect Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are welcomed by Rev. Luis Leon as they arrive for church service at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009

Obama and wife Michelle attended a church service before the inauguration

"I hope that our cooperation is shaped by listening to one another, and making decisions on the basis that one country alone cannot solve the world's problems," Merkel said Tuesday on German state broadcaster ARD.

"This is the spirit in which I will encounter him," the chancellor added.

Merkel said that, to tackle the particularly difficult challenges on Obama's agenda, he will have to take a stronger multilateral approach: "When dealing with international agreements, the United States of America will also need to offer up some of its own sovereignty to international organizations."

Specifically, Merkel called for improved international rules for the financial markets and make it clear that Europe would not tolerate what it considers to be unfair aid from Washington to the US auto industry.

Obama's message of change and hope propelled him to the presidency, but in the days leading up to the inauguration he has tried to dampen expectations of immediate results. He has warned the economy will likely "get worse before it gets better."

Clear stance on Afghanistan

In addition to the global economic crisis, Obama also inherits wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Though he has expressed plans to pull US troops out of Iraq in the middle-term, he has also said he would call on Europe to send more troops in the Middle East.

Merkel Tuesday, made it clear that -- despite his popularity -- Obama would not be able to convince Germany to increase its commitment in Afghanistan even further.

It has already pledged an addition 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, bringing the total to 4,500.

Obama has promised, as one of his first presidential acts, to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which has been highly unpopular in Europe.

Expect no magic from Obama

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel said Germany wouldn't budge on some things

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner put a damper on the global optimism spreading Tuesday, pointing out that "Barack Obama does not have a magic wand."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also warned against overly high expectations.

"I am deeply convinced that the biggest disappointments are born out of big expectations," he said while in Berlin on the weekend.

"That there is such enthusiasm in European countries apparently means that there is big disappointment about what Europeans have seen in US foreign policy recently," added Putin.

A day of celebration

Crowds fill the National Mall as they wait for the inauguration ceremony to begin at in Washington

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the historic event

Following the inauguration, Obama, 47, and vice-president-elect Joseph Biden, 66, were to lunch with members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices and the new cabinet, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House -- including marching bands, military veterans, union workers and school children -- was planned for later in the afternoon.

Obama will spend Tuesday evening attending various black tie inaugural balls throughout the city, then will get down to the nation's business during his first full day of office on Wednesday, when he will meet with his top economic advisers.

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