Obama in Berlin: 'This is our moment, this is our time'

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 24, 2008 

BERLIN — In a highly unusual move for an American presidential candidate, Barack Obama staged a foreign policy speech Thursday before a huge overseas audience, implicitly criticizing President Bush and calling for renewed transatlantic cooperation to rein in Iran, fight religious extremism and terrorism, and address global warming and poverty.

"People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment, this is our time," the Democratic hopeful told an enthusiastic outdoor crowd, which local authorities estimated at more than 200,000.

Turning a critical eye on the United States with phrasing he uses on the stump at home to humanize himself, Obama said, "I know my country has not perfected itself" and "we've made our share of mistakes and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions."

The Europeans roared with approval.

Speaking before sunset at the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten, to a crowd that stretched close to a mile back to the Brandenburg Gate, the 46-year-old first-term senator, who is extremely popular in Western Europe, recalled the celebration after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

He warned that today "the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."

Obama implored European leaders to send more military troops to fight al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside the United States.

"America cannot do this alone.�The Afghan people need our troops and your troops," he said.

"In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common," he said. "In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe's role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth."

Obama and his campaign have sought to downplay the campaign aspects of the Berlin appearance � and his entire foreign trip this week.

"I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen," he said, "a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world."

The line itself echoed President John F. Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech here in 1963, when JFK said that "all free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin."

Obama arrived in Germany Thursday morning to much fanfare, as local television stations aired live coverage and fans gathered in the streets for a glimpse of the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate outside his hotel and as he arrived for a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Josephine Wagner-Quist of Heidelberg was among them.

"We hope that everything goes better in the United States," she said. "Maybe we'll have a little peace."

Inge Evertsson of Sweden, vacationing in Berlin, said he likes the idea of Obama as president because it would represent "a new era. America is still the most important country and the president has much to decide."

Before delivering his speech, Obama told reporters it wouldn't be comparable to famous ones in Berlin by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan because "they were presidents. I am a citizen. But obviously Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of the post-World War II effort to bring the continent together and to bring the West together and then later to bring the East and the West together. So I think it's a natural place."

He demurred when asked if this was meant as a preview of what sort of president he might be if he were to defeat Republican John McCain in November. "No," he said. "I'm just giving a speech."

But he clearly felt good about his reception � and his trip so far. He invited reporters traveling with him to join him at a restaurant after the speech for an off-the-record gathering, and celebrated with a dry vodka martini with an olive garnish.

A small campaign flap erupted late Friday over Obama's decision to cancel a planned short visit to U.S. military bases in Germany. His campaign issued a statement explaining that Obama decided not to visit soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center because he thought it would be inappropriate to do so as part of a trip funded by the campaign.

McCain's campaign issued a statement criticizing Obama's decision to cancel the visit.

"Barack Obama is wrong. It is never inappropriate to visit our men and women in the military," said McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.

Before leaving Israel for Germany, Obama visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, accompanied by a rabbi. Although the predawn visit was not advertised, it was widely anticipated, and in the waning moonlight he was heckled by a protester shouting, "Obama, Jerusalem is not for sale!" as other locals who supported Obama tried to drown out the protester's cries.

The Illinois senator had said on Wednesday that he supports making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but said its ultimate status should be determined by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the Wailing Wall, Obama slipped a prayer note between one of the gaps in the stone, as is customary, placed a hand on the wall and bowed his head.

On the plane from Israel to Germany, Obama told reporters he was wiped out from nearly a week's worth of travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, under stressful conditions, with jet lag, packed schedules and too little rest — and that once the plane took off he was going to sleep.

He described his experience on the trip so far as "moving," speaking in particular about his interactions with U.S. troops, but said one frustration was that when visiting war zones the logistics were too controlled to allow him to talk to the local populations.

Obama will travel to France and England on Friday and Saturday before returning home.

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