Obama heads for France after Berlin rally

July 25, 2008 12:00 am

, BERLIN, July 25 – US presidential hopeful Barack Obama was due in Paris on Friday a day after telling a vast crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin that Americans and Europeans must tear down walls between estranged allies, races and faiths, in a soaring challenge to a new political generation.

Obama’s aides did not detail his agenda, but the Illinois senator was expected to land at Le Bourget airport and head into Paris solely for the Sarkozy meeting before leaving for London soon afterwards.

"Senator Obama looks forward to meeting with President Sarkozy and discussing areas of mutual interest, including the common challenges of security, transnational threats, and the global economy," his national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said.

Sarkozy told Friday’s edition of Le Figaro newspaper Obama was a "friend".

Public opinion polls in France mirror those elsewhere in Europe to show Obama is by far the candidate most people would like to see succeed President George W. Bush in the November elections.

Barack Obama told a vast crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin that Americans and Europeans must tear down walls between estranged allies, races and faiths, in a soaring challenge to a new political generation.

The Democratic White House candidate warned, not far from the footprint of the former Berlin Wall, that humanity must build "a world that stands as one," before a rapt crowd Thursday, the biggest of his campaign.

"The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another," said Obama, who has scorched through US politics at lightning speed to challenge Republican John McCain for the White House in November’s election.

"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," he said, referring to festering divisions between Europe and the United States opened up by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand.

"The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down," Obama said in a speech covered live on German and US television.

This refrain echoed former US president Ronald Reagan’s call to then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin in 1987 to "tear down this wall," before the fall of Communism.

Obama’s speech, before the Victory Column in Berlin’s famed Tiergarten park, took the White House race abroad in a way never seen before, and confirmed Obama as a global political phenomenon.

It came during a Middle East and Europe tour designed to calm the fears of those Americans who fear he is too inexperienced to be president.

But despite crowd chants of Obama’s slogan "Yes, we can" and its soaring cadences, the speech was short on specifics, and Obama’s foes will likely accuse him of empty rhetoric.

McCain took a swipe at his rival, visiting a German sausage restaurant in Ohio, and said he would love to give a speech in Berlin, but only as president.

"John McCain has dedicated his life to serving, improving and protecting America, Barack Obama spent an afternoon talking about it."

Obama’s impact on US voters will also be closely watched, as huge crowds in Europe are no guarantee of success in US politics at a time when the economy is hurting.

A Fox News poll showed Thursday that 51 percent of Americans believe Obama will win the election, with only 27 percent betting on a McCain victory.

A month ago, 47 percent of Americans believed that Obama would win the election compared to 32 percent for McCain.

In Berlin the crowd was put at more than 200,000 people by Michael Bengsch, media relations officer of Berlin Police. The figure beat Obama’s previous record of 75,000 in Oregon earlier this year.

The Illinois senator rebuked both his country and Europe for blaming one another for their drift apart, but took pains to insulate himself from critics back home who doubt his patriotism.

"I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived, at great cost and great sacrifice, to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world."

Obama also used Berlin’s triumph over division and totalitarianism as a metaphor for the world he hoped to forge.

"People of the world — look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one," Obama said.

In a speech that risked being seen as presumptuous, considering Obama will not even face US voters for another three months, he warned of a world where partnership was not a choice but the only means of survival.

"We cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone," he said.

He promised America under his watch would be serious about tackling global warming, a huge concern in Europe and a cause of rifts between the continent and the United States during the Bush administration.

But Europe must live up to its side of the bargain, he said, asking for more help in the struggle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He also demanded more help for Iraqi civilians, for an effort to solve Myanmar’s political agony and a new drive for Middle East peace, an attempt to settle the Darfur crisis and a battle against nuclear proliferation.


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