June 19, 2013

In Germany speech, Obama urges 'bold' nuclear cuts

JULIE PACE / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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President Barack Obama, accompanied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, waves to the crowd after speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Wednesday.

The Associated Press

The president commended Germany and other European nations for leading the way in tackling climate change, an issue he has pledged to make a priority in his second term. And he reiterated his desire to shut the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a comment that was enthusiastically received by the German crowd despite the president's failure to achieve the same goal during his first term.

Obama's nuclear pledges signaled an effort by the White House to revive a national security matter that has languished in recent years. But he set no deadlines for reaching a negotiated agreement with the Russians and his proposals were quickly questioned by officials in Moscow.

Russian foreign affairs official Alexei Pushkov told the Interfax news agency the proposals needed "serious revision so that they can be seen by the Russian side as serious and not as propaganda proposals." And Yuri Ushakov, foreign policy aide to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that Moscow had already told the White House that any further arms reduction would have to involve countries besides just Russia and the United States.

"The situation is now far from what it was in the '60s and '70s, when only the USA and the Soviet Union discussed arms reduction," Ushakov said.

Obama also faced questions during his news conference with Merkel on deepening U.S. involvement in Syria and potential pitfalls in efforts to peacefully wind down the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

On Syria, Obama pointedly refused to detail steps his government has recently taken to arm rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. U.S. officials have confirmed that the administration has approved weapons and ammunition shipments to the opposition.

"I cannot and will not comment on specifics around our programs related to the Syrian opposition," Obama said.

The president also tried to explain away a surprise announcement that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was suspending talks with the U.S. on a new security deal in protest over the handling of initial peace negotiations with the Taliban. Obama announced the Taliban talks only one day prior, praising Karzai as he did as "courageous."

Obama said the U.S. had anticipated "there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground. That's not surprising. They've been fighting there for a long time" and mistrust is rampant. But he said it was important to pursue a parallel track toward reconciliation even as the fighting continued, and it would be up to the Afghan people as to whether that effort ultimately bore fruit.

First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha traveled with Obama throughout his trip. The president and first lady were feted by the German government at a dinner Wednesday night before the family returned to Washington.

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