Obama Calls for U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Reductions

Mike O'Brien

Against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s most historic landmark, President Obama on Wednesday called for launching negotiations with Russia aimed at cutting nuclear arms by up to one third.

In a major foreign policy speech, he said: "We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation but so long as nuclear weapons exist we are not safe."

As he called for cutting nuclear stockpiles, the crowd in front of him waved American and German flags.

Mr. Obama said: "Today's threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on.

"And I come here for this city of hope because the test of our time demands the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago."

At a news conference earlier in the day Mr. Obama announced that the U.S. was not getting ready to go to war with Syria and welcomed support from a summit of world leaders this week aimed at ending the civil war that has claimed so many lives.

A U.S. military intervention to get rid of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad were "a little overcranked," he said, while adding that a peaceful solution in Syria could only come with a new government.

The President met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, following a two-day summit in Northern Ireland of leaders from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations. The G-8 confirmed its commitment at the summit to create a transitional government in Syria.

"The good news from the G-8 meeting was that we saw all the countries including Russia reaffirm the communiquê that said to create a transitional governing body with full powers," Mr. Obama said. "All countries, including Russia, said we have to investigate the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria by all parties, including the government."

Ms. Merkel added: "Germany has very clear rules, legal rules, that we don’t deliver arms to countries in sectarian conflict…. That doesn’t mean we can’t play a constructive role…in the humanitarian process," she said.

This is Mr. Obama’s first official visit to the German capital since taking office five years ago.

While he remains popular in Germany, some disillusionment with him has grown over drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and recent revelations about Prism, the U.S. National Security Agency’s internet surveillance program.

Responding to questions from German reporters about Prism, Mr. Obama said that the U.S. was determined to strike a balance between protecting civil rights and protecting lives. He said any surveillance is being monitored by the courts and is only started based on specific leads linked to terror threats.

He said: "This is not a situation where we are rifling though he ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else.

"We know of at least 50 threats which have been averted…in some cases in Germany, so lives have been saved and the encroachment has been strictly limited by a court approved process."