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In Berlin, Obama Calls For Anti-Terror Cooperation

Sen. Barack Obama speaks in front of the Siegessaeule at the Grosser Stern in Tiergarten on Thursday in Berlin.
Carsten Koal / Getty Images
Getty Images
Sen. Barack Obama speaks in front of the Siegessaeule at the Grosser Stern in Tiergarten on Thursday in Berlin.

Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Europeans to join America in the effort to defeat terrorism and extremism.

In a speech in Berlin, he recalled the wall that once split the city into East and West, and warned of other walls and barriers that can divide nations and people of different races and religions.

About 200,000 people turned out in Tiergarten Park to hear the Illinois senator and White House hopeful, whom polls show is immensely popular in Germany. A roar went up as he took to the stage — erected in front of the towering Victory Column, a structure built in the 1800s.

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

At times, the event felt like his stump speech, one that included the personal story of his father born in Africa and his mother born in America's heartland.

But he quickly turned to the need for a strong partnership between the United States and Europe. There were references to legendary speeches delivered at the Berlin Wall by two American presidents, Kennedy and Reagan. Obama repeatedly invoked the symbolism of the wall.

"When the German people tore down that wall — a wall that divided East and West, freedom and tyranny, fear and hope — walls came tumbling down around the world," he said. "From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed and the doors of democracy were opened."

Obama also said that U.S. and European interests are more intertwined than ever before, citing the threat posed by terrorist extremists.

"If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope," the Democratic senator said.

All this week during his trip through Europe and the Middle East, Obama has spoken of the need for more troops and more resources for the war in Afghanistan. In Berlin, he called on European nations to send more troops there.

He also addressed the negative image of the United States held by so many Europeans — much of that driven by the Iraq war. But Obama noted that Americans often see Europe negatively, as well. Neither view, he said, gives credit for the great good that each does. And he said there are hard questions that both nations have to face.

"Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?" he asked.

His speech was unusual in one sense because the German audience who came out to hear him won't be casting any votes this fall, but ultimately Obama's appearance was about something else. It is part of an effort to cast him as a world leader — and to give voters back home a better picture of how he might do on such a stage.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.