Barack Obama calls for more nuclear weapons cuts

US president echoes epic speeches by Reagan and Kennedy in Berlin by calling for a reduction in nuclear weapons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 1:47am


President Barack Obama said Russian and US nuclear weapons should be slashed by up to a third, in a keynote speech in front of Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate, where he called for a world of "peace and justice".

Obama used the once-divided city's rebirth as a metaphor for progress, as he stood on the east side of the route of the Berlin Wall, and warned the "complacent" West that history did not stop with its cold war victory.

The wall belongs to history. But we have history to make as well
Barack Obama

"The wall belongs to history. But we have history to make as well," a sweat-streaked Obama said to an invited crowd of 6,000 people standing before the majestic landmark in sweltering summer weather.

The US leader called on Russia to agree to bring the number of strategic nuclear weapons held by the former cold war foes down to around 1,000 and also to cut stocks of tactical nuclear arms.

"I've determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies and maintain a strong deterrent, while reducing our strategic weapons by up to one-third. These are steps we can take to create a world of peace and justice," he said, seeking to cement nuclear arms cuts as a key piece of his legacy.

It remains unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Obama had a frosty meeting at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on Monday, will agree to such cuts.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, however, poured cold water on the proposal. "How can we take seriously this idea about cuts in strategic nuclear potential, while the United States is developing its potential to intercept this strategic potential," he said, according Russia's Itar-TASS news agency.

A Kremlin spokesman said earlier that Russia had told the US it wanted other nuclear armed states to commit to reductions.

Obama sought to conjure up the echoes of speeches by predecessors John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, though his speech lacked the historic weight and urgency of their cold war efforts. Nearly 50 years to the day after Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" in Berlin, Obama built his conceit around another quote from the assassinated Democrat's speech - the idea of "peace with justice".

Obama issued a call for the equality of economic opportunity, gender, sexuality and respect for immigrants and all religious faiths, in a throwback to his own campaign rhetoric in 2008 and last year.

And he made his firmest vow to date to make good on previous promises to tackle global warming, which have largely been derailed by resistance in the US Congress and by the fear of harming the sluggish US economy.

"Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet," Obama said, to applause. "We know we have to do more. And we will do more."

Germans had eagerly awaited Obama's first trip to their capital as president, but his arrival had been preceded by sharp questions about the scope of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes.

In a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Obama sought to assure Germans that the system was limited and legal. "This is not a situation where we are rifling through, you know, the ordinary e-mails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else," Obama said.