Obama set for Berlin but questions remain over speech

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American presidential candidate Barack Obama is to include Berlin in his European tour, but questions remain over whether he will be allowed to address crowds at the Brandenburg gate

Berlin  -- Barack Obama is to visit Berlin on July 24, officials said Tuesday, confirming days of speculation that the Democratic Party's likely presidential candidate would visit the German capital to make a major policy address on US-European relations.

Berlin's Social Democrat (SPD) mayor, Klaus Wowereit, indicated he would be available to meet the Illinois senator and also backed plans to allow Obama to speak in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate in the city centre.

Reports have circulated in Germany that Obama would use the venue, where former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton made key speeches, as a backdrop for a speech marking a new phase in US-European ties after strained relations under President George W Bush.

The online edition of Der Spiegel news magazine reported Tuesday the speech would pledge greater US cooperation with Europe, while at the same time calling for a greater contribution in Afghanistan and Iraq, where US troops are bogged down in drawn-out conflicts.

"The senator has often been criticized for not showing sufficient interest in Europe," an unnamed Obama adviser told Der Spiegel.

"This visit is an answer to the criticism and for this reason he will address this theme."

The Illinois senator could use his stops in London and Paris to speak on US-European relations, but his campaign team was thought to be behind the Brandenburg Gate venue, the magazine said.

The gate, which stood just inside the communist side of the Berlin Wall at the crossing point between the former Soviet and British zones, occupies a fixed place in Cold War mythology.

It was here that in 1987 President Ronald Reagan urged the Soviet Union's last communist leader: "Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

A little more than two years later, the wall did in fact come down.

And in 1994, President Bill Clinton ended a speech at the same site with the words: "Berlin ist frei" (Berlin is free).

Berlin was the venue for another famous speech by a former US president.

John F Kennedy made his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner) speech in 1963, less than two years after the wall went up, although he was speaking not at the Brandenburg Gate but on the steps of a large city hall not far away.

The Obama campaign team is said to hope that "television pictures of 100,000 cheering supporters" listening to the senator in Berlin would boost his election chances by showing that relations with Europe would improve under an Obama presidency.

Chancellor Angela Merkel could also benefit politically from being seen with the charismatic senator.

A weekend poll showed that 72 per cent of Germans would vote for Obama if they had the chance, against just 11 per cent for his Republican Party rival John McCain.

But there are also doubts. An unnamed official in Merkel's office told Der Spiegel that the Brandenburg Gate should not be turned into a backdrop for foreign election campaigns.

The decision in any case falls to the government of Berlin and not to the federal government.

And the chancellery made plain to Der Spiegel that while Obama would receive a warm welcome, so would McCain if he came. DPA





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