Obama campaigns for help in Afghan terror fight - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Obama campaigns for help in Afghan terror fight

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Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 9:35 pm | Updated: 1:50 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

STRASBOURG, France - Courting Europe with an American-style campaign, President Barack Obama on Friday talked up his plans - popular here - to eliminate nuclear weapons, close the Guantanamo Bay prison and tackle global warming.

In return, he's hoping for European popular support in the anti-terror fight in Afghanistan.

Obama seems likely to win fresh commitments at Saturday's 60th anniversary NATO summit. He can expect more civilian aid and small troop increases for training Afghan forces and providing security for upcoming elections.

But the European public has no stomach for more intense military involvement by their nations. So Obama is unlikely to get additional help in the way of either major combat troops or new deployments to the toughest areas of the fighting in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Obama and his aides sought ahead of time to frame that outcome in the best possible light.

"It's not just a matter of more resources, it's a matter of more effectively using the resources we have," Obama said.

That comment came in the midst of a remarkable event he created at a basketball arena in Strasbourg, a campaign-style "town hall" in which he fielded questions from young French and German men and women.

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said securing new commitments from allies would neither begin nor end with the NATO meetings, noting that nations need more time to digest Obama's week-old revamped Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. "The NATO summit is not a pledging conference," she told reporters.

Obama's national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, said Obama's new approach to Afghanistan, which calls for increasing U.S. troops by 21,000, narrowing the mission on uprooting terrorist safe havens and broadening the focus to include Pakistan, would inspire fresh involvement. "I think there's a new mood," Jones said.

Just hours before the summit was to start over dinner in the German town of Baden-Baden, just over the border from here, Obama continued his lobbying.

He wowed a 4,000-strong crowd of French and German citizens at the arena in Strasbourg. He also laid the flattery on thick with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and thicker with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Obama praised Sarkozy as "courageous on so many fronts, it's hard to keep up" and for displaying "initiative, imagination, creativity" in tackling difficult problems.

Sarkozy said Obama would visit France again in June, to mark the anniversary of the 1944 D-Day invasion by allied forces at Normandy.

At the town hall, Obama explicitly asked Europe to step up to a greater extent in Afghanistan, saying Europeans should recognize that the threat from extremists there and in neighboring Pakistan endangers them as much - even more, he said - as it does Americans.

"It is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now president and George Bush is no longer president, al-Qaida is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything is going to be OK," he said. "This is a joint problem. And it requires a joint effort."

Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, welcomed the Obamas at the majestic 18th-century Rohan Palace in Strasbourg.

Then Sarkozy pledged his nation would send more police trainers and development assistance to Afghanistan. Merkel, appearing with Obama after an afternoon meeting in Baden-Baden, said without elaboration that her country wants to bear its share of the responsibility in Afghanistan, too.

The attention to Afghanistan represented a pivot to the latest phase of Obama's eight-day, five-country trip, a whirlwind diplomatic debut less than three months into the president's term. The first few days of his European tour were focused on the global economic crisis, during a summit of wealthy and developing nations in London, and high-stakes meetings with leaders of such world powers as Russia and China.

After concluding the NATO gathering, Obama will fly to Prague for yet another summit on Sunday, this one between the United States and the European Union. The Czech Republic holds the EU rotating presidency. The president then will stop in Turkey for two days.

Back home, some Republicans tried to dent the impact of the Obama adulation in Europe, criticizing him for making no plans to visit wounded U.S. troops at an American military hospital just a short distance away in Landstuhl, Germany. Obama had canceled a visit to the hospital last summer during a European trip while a presidential candidate, after the Pentagon raised concerns about political activity on a military base.

Though the town hall was billed as a way to escape the presidential bubble by interacting with young foreigners, "not only to speak to you but to hear from you," Obama did most of the talking - delivering a 25-minute introductory speech and giving long answers to the five questions he took afterward.

But he showed himself nimble with the format, pacing the stage with a microphone and, despite a worsening cold, enlivening his lengthy, professorial answers with easy banter.

In urging greater contributions from Europe, Obama attempted to both seduce and scold.

He touched on some of the more important issues for Europeans in relations with the U.S., drawing hearty applause for several points.

- He set a dramatic, long-term goal of "a world without nuclear weapons," an idea he promised to detail further in a nonproliferation speech in Prague.

- He pledged to aggressively address climate change.

- He promoted his decision to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year and declared "without equivocation that the United States does not and will not torture."

In a symbolic gesture, Sarkozy announced France would accept one prisoner from the detention center for suspected terrorists. "We can't condemn the United States to have this camp and then simply wash our hands of the whole business when they close it down," Sarkozy said. Spain and Portugal have already said they could accept prisoners, while Germany and many others remain tight-lipped about whether they will accept prisoners who are not citizens of their nations.

Obama acknowledged "doubt about this war in Europe," and he thanked European nations for the contributions they already have made in Afghanistan. But he said the status quo isn't enough.

"Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone," Obama said.

Asked, at Merkel's side, if Germany should do more, he said, "We do expect that all NATO partners are going to contribute. They have thus far, but the progress in some cases has been uneven."

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