Obama reiterates Mideast peace push at former Nazi camp

6th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Flanked by Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama became the first US president to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp in central Germany.



Buchenwald -- US President Barack Obama renewed a historic commitment to Israel with a solemn visit to a former Nazi camp Friday but urged all Middle East parties to make sacrifices for peace.

Flanked by Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama became the first US president to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp in central Germany.

Obama listened intently to Wiesel's harrowing recollections of camp life and laid a white rose at a memorial plaque for the camp's more than 56,000 victims before taking a tour of its barracks and crematorium.

Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald's complex of camps in April 1945 by US troops who included Obama's great-uncle, Charlie Payne.

Payne, 84 and frail, decided not to accompany the president to Buchenwald, but will join Obama's party at ceremonies for the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France on Saturday.

Obama had sharp words during the visit for deniers of the Nazis' slaughter of six million Jews, without mentioning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who branded the Holocaust on Tuesday a "big deception."

"To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened, a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful," he said.

"This place is the ultimate rebuke of those thoughts -- a reminder of our duty to confront those who tell lies about our history."

Obama also made an implicit case for a Jewish homeland in Israel, fresh from his maiden diplomatic voyage to the Middle East, which included public disputes with Israeli leaders on settlement policy and the need for a Palestinian state.

Earlier, he said after talks in Dresden with Merkel that he believed the US was forging a path to relaunch the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians but that it could not do it alone.

"I think the moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is that each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises," Obama said.

"Ultimately, the United States can't force peace upon the parties. But what we've tried to do is to clear away some of the misunderstandings so that we can at least begin to have frank dialogue."

He reiterated his demand for Israel to stop settlement expansion on the West Bank but added that he was "very sympathetic" to political pressures faced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And he urged Palestinians and Arab neighbours to do their part by making "tough choices" to defuse the situation in the region.

Merkel said she believed Obama's efforts could make headway toward a two-state solution in the Middle East.

"I believe that with the new American administration, with President Barack Obama, there is actually a unique opportunity now to see to it that this peace process -- or let's perhaps be more careful -- this negotiation process to be revived again," she said.

German media saw the visit as a conciliatory gesture to Israel and US Jews after his criticism of Israeli policy in Cairo.

Obama's stops in Dresden, Buchenwald and Normandy together form a poignant two-day mission of World War II remembrance.

Dresden was controversially flattened by Allied bombing in the final months of the war, killing an estimated 35,000 people.

The city has been lovingly restored in the intervening years, and Merkel led Obama to the Baroque Church of Our Lady which reopened in 2005 after a lavish reconstruction financed with donations from around the globe.

Obama remains extremely popular in Germany, nearly a year after he drew a rapturous crowd of 200,000 people to the streets of Berlin as a presidential candidate.

Smiling warmly, he and Merkel played down any rumours of a rift over issues ranging from the planned closing of the US anti-terror lockup at Guantanamo Bay to recent negotiations on rescuing the European arm of General Motors.

After leaving Buchenwald, the president arrived at the Landstuhl medical centre in western Germany to pay a visit to wounded US troops before heading to France later Friday.


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