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In Berlin, Obama calls for reductions in U.S., Russian nuclear arms

June 19, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons
  • President Obama waves to spectators before he delivers a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
President Obama waves to spectators before he delivers a speech in front… (Michael Kappeler / Associated…)

BERLIN -- President Obama on Wednesday announced plans to go beyond the reductions outlined in the New START treaty with Russia and said he would seek an additional one-third cut in the number of strategic nuclear warheads in the U.S. stockpile, if the Russians agree to do the same.

Summoning the words of John F. Kennedy in a speech before the Brandenburg Gate, Obama argued that the safety of the United States and its allies is rooted in fairness and freedom from threat -- including the global nuclear threat.

Just as Kennedy called on Berliners to “lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today,” Obama said, he asked them to look “to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourself and ourselves to all mankind.”

“Our work is not done,” Obama said. “So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.”

After a comprehensive review, he said, his administration has determined the U.S. can still ensure the security of the U.S. and its allies while dramatically reducing the level of deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

He pledged to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to reduce U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe and to come up with a new approach to peaceful nuclear power, even as his administration stands against the nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran.

He will work with the Russians, Obama said, “to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”

The remarks, delivered under a blistering afternoon sun, marked a return to a conversation about disarmament that has been mostly eclipsed by more urgent issues of Obama’s presidency.

He chose to deliver the message to a European public that gives Obama high approval ratings but also has grown wary of some of his foreign policies, including his use of drones, his failure to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and, recently, the U.S. government’s use of foreign surveillance programs.

German leader Angela Merkel expressed concern about the national security programs in a conversation with the president earlier Wednesday.

Obama offered assurances to Germans that he would seek to balance security with privacy.

“I'm confident that that balance can be struck,” he said. “I'm confident of that, and I'm confident that working with Germany, we can keep each other safe while at the same time maintaining those essential values for which we fought for.”

To resurrect the issue of nuclear security and disarmament this week, Obama chose the city where Kennedy delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) speech 50 years ago. On Wednesday, Obama asked listeners to remember the other things Kennedy said that day.

Kennedy's words are "timeless," Obama said, because they call on people to care about more than just "our own self-comfort."

"They demand that we embrace the common endeavor of all humanity," Obama said. "And if we lift our eyes as President Kennedy calls us to do, then we'll recognize that our work is not yet done. So we are not only citizens of America or Germany, we are also citizens of the world. And our faiths and fortunes are linked like never before. We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe."

Progress in the fight against terror is ineffective if the U.S. and its allies ignore the "instability and intolerance that fuels extremism," he said.

"We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we're not truly prosperous," Obama said. "I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experience."


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Twitter: @khennessey

Twitter: @cparsons 

Hennessey reported from Berlin and Parsons reported from Washington.

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