Obama Visit Aims To Bolster Ties to France, Germany

United Front on Terror Sought

In Strasbourg, France, President Obama hailed NATO as the most successful alliance in modern history and a central pillar is strong European defense. Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 4, 2009

STRASBOURG, France, April 3 -- With a call to common purpose and the generational appeal to youth that helped him win election at home, President Obama pressed his efforts here Friday to change the tone of a relationship with traditional allies that was soured by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Arriving from London, where at an economic summit he pushed for united action to combat the global recession, Obama shifted his focus to the threat al-Qaeda poses to Western nations and the need for a united response. But while he won pledges of support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his new strategy for winning the battle in Afghanistan, the two leaders stopped short of promising to back the American effort by sending more combat troops to the war-torn nation.

Obama will push his new plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Saturday during a conference here marking NATO's 60th anniversary.

"We're not looking to be the patron of Europe -- we're looking to be partners with Europe," he said at a town hall meeting shortly after arriving in this city on the French-German border. "The more capable they are defensively, the more we can act in concert on the shared challenges we face."

The president and first lady Michelle Obama strode onto a stage in the middle of a sports arena to thunderous applause, an image that invoked candidate Obama's trademark rallies. In his comments to the mostly college-age audience, the president acknowledged that the United States has contributed to the "drift" in relations across the Atlantic. "There have been times where America's showed arrogance," he said, but went on to chide his audience: "There is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious."

He said Europeans have a responsibility to join the United States in the Afghan fight because the threat from terrorism is even greater for them, and suggested that Americans expect more support for the effort than European leaders have been willing to offer.

"There will be a military component to it, and Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone," he told the audience. "This is not an American mission. This is a NATO mission; this is an international mission."

Obama did not specifically call for more troops from European nations, which are balancing their desire to forge a new era of transatlantic cooperation with a reluctance to commit more resources to Afghanistan.

Sarkozy told Obama on Friday that "we totally endorse and support America's new strategy in Afghanistan," but he insisted that his country will offer only assistance with development and more people to help train the Afghan police force.

"There will be no extra French troops. The decision to step up our troop presence was taken already last year," Sarkozy said after meeting privately with Obama for almost an hour at a palace here.

Merkel pledged to support Obama's new efforts in Afghanistan during a similar meeting in nearby Baden-Baden, Germany. But she did not offer any specifics. German officials have said that any increase in the country's 3,800 troops is highly unlikely.

The American president played down any rift between the United States and his European counterparts, praising Sarkozy and Merkel for their broad support of his new approach for Afghanistan.

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