Obama turns on the charm in Old Europe

4th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Half a world from the US campaign trail, Obama made a pitch for the hearts and minds of Europeans, at an American-style "town hall" meeting in Strasbourg on the eve of NATO's 60th anniversary summit.

Strasbourg -- Old Europe got a taste of the "politics of hope" on Friday as Barack and Michelle Obama deployed the formidable charisma, which enthralled America in a bid to heal past diplomatic rifts.

With trademark audacity, the US president picked up the machinery of his 2008 White House race and planted it down on the Franco-German border, where scores of war graves bear testimony to the price of political division.

Half a world from the US campaign trail, Obama made a pitch for the hearts and minds of Europeans, at an American-style "town hall" meeting in Strasbourg on the eve of NATO's 60th anniversary summit.

An indoor arena in Strasbourg became a surreal replica of the school gyms, ice rinks and basketball courts in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or Ohio, honed in his successful run for the White House.

A warm-up singer performed "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands" before the president showed up, in what was probably not meant as a glowing portrayal of Obama's growing clout as a global leader.

Despite a heavy cold, which gave him glassy eyes, Obama lit up the room with his famous smile, grasping hands as he walked in with the First Lady wearing a glamorous purple dress.

Once on stage, after screams of delight from a 4,500-strong crowd of French and German students, plus a sprinkling of Americans, Obama waxed poetic before slipping into his familiar professorial mode.

As is his wont, Obama took up the problem from both sides, then dispensed a remedy -- more "working together."

First off, Obama fixed blame on the United States for the "drift" in transatlantic ties.

"There have been times where America's showed arrogance," he said, arguing that Americans had sometimes viewed Europe's culture with derision.

But his audience had to know the kicker was coming.

"There is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious," Obama said, referring to Europe.

The new president, who apologised for his "terrible" French and German, seemed to revel in the company of foreigners -- in contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, who was reviled in Europe.

It was not the first time Obama had used his political road show to build support abroad. Last summer, as a presidential candidate, he went to Europe and gave a barnstorming speech before hundreds of thousands in Berlin.

Nevertheless, Obama is only taking his first steps on the global stage, and has yet to show that charisma alone can carve out deals on divisive issues such as economic rescue plans or getting more European troops into Afghanistan.

His new fans in Strasbourg, however, seemed mostly convinced.

"He was a great speaker, he was smiling, joking," said Frenchwoman Frederique Attal, 21. Sixteen-year-old German Serhart Kurt added: "It's a wonderful feeling to see him in real life."

But Algerian-born Hamed Ouanoufi was a harder sell, complaining that the questions offered to Obama were too easy and faulting the president for not addressing Middle East peace in depth.

"I'm not going to idealise him -- he's a man just like anyone else, let's see in two or three years how he does.

Earlier, at a press conference, Obama showed he was a fast learner at the international summit game, flattering his host President Nicolas Sarkozy by praising him for "courageous" and energetic leadership.

To one side were the two most glamorous First Ladies in world politics today -- Mrs Obama and Sarkozy's new wife, the Italian-born model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, keeping the paparazzi flashguns bursting.

AFP/Expatica

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