Europe waits impatiently for Obama era
Almost six years after the US-led war in Iraq divided Europe, EU leaders hope the new US president will re-unite with them to confront global challenges.
Paris – Obama-fever swept the globe Tuesday, carrying with it a widespread hope that the incoming US president would lead the world into a new, crisis-free era.
Pictures of Obama dominated front pages and television news programs around the world. Spain's El Pais newspaper published a photo of Obama and his wife Michelle above the headline, "The American Dream Comes to Power."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero said an "Obama effect" could shorten the global recession.
"In my opinion, the economic crisis could be shorter than expected if the new administration of Barack Obama generates confidence," said Zapatero. "We could see a rebound faster than expected. It is all a question of confidence, because the fundamentals of the global economy are good enough."
After eight years of sometimes uneasy relations with outgoing president George W. Bush, leaders seemed eager for the change promised by Obama.
"The whole world is watching the inauguration of President Obama, witnessing a new chapter in both American history and the world's history," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, calling him "a man of great vision."
In France, which strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq and where anti-Bush sentiment has been particularly intense, Sarkozy pledged to work closely with the 44th president of the United States.
"We are eager for him to get to work so that with him we can change the world," Sarkozy told reporters.
In a message to the new US leader, released by his office, Sarkozy spoke of the "immense challenges" facing the planet.
"With your election, the American people have forcefully expressed their faith in progress and the future, and their desire for a renewed America, open, strong and full of solidarity, which you embody," it said.
Sarkozy's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that Obama had a tough job ahead, saying he "does not have a magic wand."
"I think we should not expect him to immediately solve all America's problems, nor ours," Kouchner said.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso urged Obama to strengthen transatlantic relations to confront the economic crisis and conflict in the Middle East.
Almost six years after the US-led war in Iraq divided Europe, EU leaders hope the new US president will re-unite with them to confront global challenges. Obama will make two visits to Europe in April -- one for an international summit on the economic crisis and another for a NATO alliance meeting.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel underscored the challenges facing Obama amid a deepening war in Afghanistan and a standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
While Obama plans to deploy 30,000 more US troops to battle the Taliban in Afghanistan, Merkel said the new president's arrival did not mean Germany would send more soldiers there.
Germany has decided to increase its force in Afghanistan from 3,300 troops to 4,500. "We took our decisions based on our capabilities, our skills, not on who is president," Merkel told German television.
On Iran, which has defied diplomatic pressure to freeze its disputed nuclear programme, Merkel said that while Obama's pledge to engage Tehran "makes sense," she was sceptical about his chances of success.
Nevertheless, the German leader joined the global admiration for the first African-American president.
"The fact that a black president is being inaugurated today, the fact that we are expecting a more intensive transatlantic cooperation, is not just something that moves you in the head, your thoughts but also in the heart," she said.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who supported Bush in the invasion of Iraq, spoke in a congratulatory message to Obama of the "importance of working together immediately to confront the current challenges."
He named "the financial crisis and its impact on the real economy, as well as the situation in the Middle East and in Afghanistan."
British officials brushed off suggestions that European leaders were jostling for the first White House invitation.
"In respect of his relations with the UK, I'm very confident that they will be very strong," Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Sky News television.
"But I do predict that over the next few weeks the media will get into a huge flap in this country about which planes are being boarded first by which European leaders, who's getting the first phone call etc," he said.
Russia looms as a major challenge for the Obama administration after bilateral relations sank over Moscow's brief war with Georgia and Washington's plans for a missile shield in central Europe.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said he had seen "positive signals" about Obama but warned against expectations for the new president running too high.
"I am deeply convinced that the biggest disappointments are born out of big expectations," Putin said during a trip to Germany at the weekend.
Still, politics did little to dampen the historic moment: Millions watched the swearing in ceremony over live feeds, Obama parties were held in capitals from London to Sydney and thousands danced in the Kenyan village where his father was born.
An international polls have, however, shown huge public support for the Democratic president-in-waiting.
A BBC World Service poll of people in 17 countries found that most -- an average of two-thirds -- believe Obama will improve the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world.
Ghanaians are most positive, on 87 percent, followed by Italy (79 percent), Germany and Spain (78 percent each), and France (76 percent), followed by Mexico and Nigeria (74 percent each).
Few words of encouragement were given to President George W. Bush as he left office, his legacy scarred by the Iraq war.
The Times in South Africa said in a commentary: "The world will say goodbye to a man who has been described as one of America's worst presidents."