'Climate change is the threat of our time': President Obama pledges to cut nuclear weapons and a greener world in Berlin speech

US President’s address at historic Berlin landmark fails to impress Republicans and some in his audience

In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate that instantly invited comparisons with visits to the same spot by some of his predecessors, President Barack Obama sought to make a historic imprint of his own, pledging to forge a new pact with Russia to further cut nuclear arsenals and to step up the fight against global warming.

President Obama, behind a screen of bullet-proof glass and perspiring under a hot sun, invoked Europe’s difficult past when it was divided by the wall that once bisected Berlin and the plaza where he stood, to insist that serious, if less obvious, global challenges remained.

“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,” Mr Obama intoned, with flights of rhetoric that held echoes of his visit to the nearby Tiergarten in 2008 when he was first running for president.

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

“Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet,” he said of global warming, saying it threatened to bring famine, vanishing coastlines and population displacements.

“This is the future we must avert,” he said. “This is the global threat of our time.” Shortly after his return to Washington, Mr Obama is set to unveil measures targeting emissions from US power stations.

More sweeping, however, was the President’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons. “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be,” he said, indicating that his administration will cut its number of strategic nuclear warheads by a third if Russia does the same.

At home, conservatives accused him of appeasing Russia while arms reduction advocates called him timid. In Berlin, the reception was more polite than rapturous. “I am a bit disappointed by Obama, although anyone is better than Bush,” said Antje Krause, 24, a sociology student who was among the 200,000 at the Tiergarten five years ago. “Back then he promised so much, but so far he hasn’t delivered,” she added.

Visiting Berlin almost exactly 50 years after John F Kennedy’s famous Cold War mission to the city, the last thing any successor US president was going to say was “Ich bin ein Berliner”. But Mr Obama did his best to befriend the German capital’s citizens all the same. But whereas in 1963 a million came out to greet Kennedy, only 6,000 hand-picked German and American guests were allowed to stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate to welcome the President.

Draconian security measures, including sealed manhole covers and police sharpshooters on every surrounding rooftop, kept a larger public away. But Mr Obama broke the ice – or rather the 33C heat – by declaring: “I am going to take my jacket off. I think that among friends we can be informal.”

Echoing Ronald Reagan, who in 1987 stood on the western side of the Brandenburg Gate and urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, Mr Obama chose the eastern side to launch his nuclear disarmament initiative in the direction of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

It was a gesture clearly designed to please German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition. Back in 2009 it pledged to lobby Nato and Washington to remove the remaining 20 or so US nuclear warheads still left on German soil. Late last year Nato announced plans not only to keep the weapons in Germany, but to modernise them.

“This is a modest goal to achieve, and he could have gone further,” Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council that advocates nuclear non-proliferation, said of the one-third proposal.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed resistance to any such initiative, which Mr Obama could pursue without congressional involvement in the framework of the existing New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The President “seems only concerned with winning the approval of nations like Russia, who will applaud a weakened United States”, Representative Michael Turner, a Republican from Ohio, lamented.

Obama meets his half-sister Auma in Berlin

Despite his packed Berlin agenda, the US President managed to fit in a spot of family business and held a brief meeting with Auma Obama, his 53-year-old half-sister.

Auma Obama, who visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial with the US First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters, was brought up by her mother in Kenya, while her half-brother was raised by his American mother in Hawaii and Indonesia.

The two did not meet until the man who would become President made contact 30 years ago, after their father, Barack Obama Snr, was killed in a car crash in Kenya in 1982. She visited him in Chicago, and the two have since become friends.

Auma, who lives in Germany and works as the head of a foundation that helps disadvantaged African children, was in Berlin when the Wall came down in 1989. “[Germany] really influenced and impressed me,” she told Stern magazine.

Tony Paterson

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone