Obama, German leader discuss war and economics | AspenTimes.com

Obama, German leader discuss war and economics

David Rising
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, waves to the media as he greets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Thursday, July 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

BERLIN ” 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.

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 was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at his office in the Foreign Ministry.

Berliners were looking to Obama’s speech set for Thursday night in front of the Tiergarten’s 226-foot high Victory Column. The speech has symbolic value because several U.S. presidents ” including John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton ” 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.”

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