Obama To Renew Call To Reduce Nuclear Weapons

President Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday before giving a speech at Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate. Fifty years ago next week, President Kennedy declared his support for the citizens of West Germany in his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm David Greene. Good morning. President Obama says the American and European Allies who won the Cold War have to work together again as they confront new challenges in this century. Obama delivered that message today at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The timing and location of his speech drew some obvious, historic parallels. It came 50 years after John F. Kennedy visited what was then a divided city to declare U.S. solidarity with the people of Berlin.

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: Obama's visit came 26 years after Ronald Reagan stood at the same spot and challenged Mikhail Gorbachev.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: And there were echoes of that in President Obama's speech today. He praised the people of Berlin.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Their enduring example remind us that for all the power of militaries, for all the authority of governments, it is citizens who choose whether to be defined by a wall or whether to tear it down.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us on the line from Berlin. And Scott, let's talk about how the speech you just heard might be remembered. Obama said the work of the Free World not yet done. What does he mean?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, the Wall has come down, but he - and he says there's a temptation for people in the United States or Germany to grow complacent, to think the battles for freedom have been won. But the president told this crowd, gathered on a sunny plaza in Berlin, that building a world of peace with justice means looking beyond their own needs and considering those in places like Afghanistan, Burma, and the Middle East.

OBAMA: In this century, these are the citizens who long to join the Free World. They are who you were. They deserve our support, for they too, in their own way, are citizens of Berlin and we have to help them every day.

(APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: The president spelled out some of the new challenges ahead, including strengthening economies, from Chicago to Berlin, and dealing with the global threat of climate change.

GREENE: OK, so that's the broad message we heard from the president, talking about these historic parallels, Scott - I mean, we heard that clip from Ronald Reagan, giving a challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev. President Obama issued his own challenge to Russia today.

HORSLEY: He did. He wants to make further cuts in nuclear weapons. The new START Treaty he signed with Russia three years ago, calls for each side to reduce of strategic nuclear warheads is has deployed by about a third - excuse me, to about 15 hundred. He now wants to go further and reduce them by them by another third, to about a thousand. The administration says that would still give both sides a credible nuclear deterrent. It would also save some money and move us a little bit closer the president's long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

GREENE: And is there a feeling that the Russians are on board with this?

HORSLEY: Well, that'll be to be seen. There's obviously been a lot of tension between the U.S. and Russia on lots of other issues, but the White House says they have business-like relationship the Russians and can make deals on some areas, even if they disagree on others.

GREENE: So we'll see where that goes. And obviously, some disagreements over Syria - the United States and Russia, right now. Scott, five years ago, when he was running for president, Barack Obama drew a huge crowd in Berlin, I mean 200,000 people, you said there was a crowd out there in the sunny plaza, today - same feeling? Different?

HORSLEY: It's a much smaller crowd. This was an invitation-only crowd, and our German colleagues say it's hard for ordinary Germans to get anywhere close to the Brandenburg Gate. We should note, though, polls suggest that the president still very popular in Germany. His approval rating in a recent Pew poll is about 88 percent, which is just about double what he's getting back in the States.

GREENE: And there are some tough issues that he's dealing with during this trip. And one of them is the leaking of this National Security Agency Surveillance Program, has that come up?

HORSLEY: That's right, that's something that Chancellor Merkel confronted him about during their meeting earlier today. She says that while there has been some useful information gleaned from that surveillance, a balance has to be struck. The president said he's confident he has struck that right balance. And when he gets back home he says he wants to declassify more information about those programs, so both Americans and Germans will feel more confident that the government is not abusing its power.

GREENE: All right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, covering President Obama's visit to Berlin. Scott, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David.

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