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Obama to stress partnership with Europe in Germany speech


US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the Hanover Industry Fair on April.

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the Hanover Industry Fair on April.

US President Barack Obama will set out his vision of ties with Europe in a speech in Germany Monday, trying to set the framework for a relationship that has been less than easy throughout his leadership.

With the end of his administration in sight, Obama will emphasise the issues that Europe and America have tackled together, from Syria to global trade, from Iraq to climate change.

Obama began his presidency with Europeans revelling in Washington’s less hardline approach to foreign policy than they saw under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Since then Obama’s star has dimmed, but aides see the address as an opportunity to reflect his 2008 speech in Berlin, when as a presidential candidate he described a need for a self-sustaining partnership.

Obama has pressed NATO allies in Europe on the need to bolster their own defence operations, which still shelter under a US umbrella.

The speech in the northern German city of Hanover “will be an opportunity to discuss joint US-European efforts to confront a range of challenges, including countering ISIL, the current refugee crisis, Ukraine, and the headwinds in the global economy,” said a US official, using an alternative term for the Islamic State group (IS).

“The president will discuss the progress made on these issues over the past few years, and outline the additional work to be done moving forward.”

– More trainers in Syria –

Washington is hoping to see an increase in defence spending among NATO allies to meet a target of two percent of economic output.

This, Obama said on Sunday, was “in part to prevent wars, not necessarily to initiate them, but to be in a position where we can send a strong signal that we can meet our alliance obligations and deal with these new and rapidly emerging challenges that confront Europe as well as the world”.

Turning to Syria, Obama is to announce he will send up to 250 more troops to the country to augment the train and assist mission, according to a senior administration official.

US troops in Syria are mandated to advise and assist Syrian rebel and anti-Islamic State forces.

That announcement comes as European allies, including his host German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are scrambling to try and limit the refugee flow into Europe and the bloodshed in Syria.

But in a sign of differences, Obama felt the need to underline his longstanding opposition to establishing a safe zone in Syria, something European countries have discussed to stem the flow of migrants.

“Sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us essentially being willing to militarily take over a big chunk of that country,” he said, ahead of talks later Monday with Merkel and the leaders of Britain, France and Italy.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told public television ARD late Sunday that the instability rocking Libya was also likely to be raised in the talks, including the key question over whether Russia should called on to play a role in bringing stability to the country.

– Trade pact this year –

While Monday’s focus is likely to be on transatlantic cooperation in trouble spots, Obama made a strong pitch for US-EU trade when he arrived in Germany on Sunday.

“Angela and I agree that the United States and the European Union need to keep moving forward with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations,” said Obama, referring to vast EU-US trade agreement in the making which has run into strong public opposition.

He called for the agreement to be sealed before the end of the year, even though tens of thousands marched through Hanover on the eve of his visit to protest against the treaty amid fears it would erode protection for workers and consumers.

But both Obama and his host Merkel say the pact will provide a shot in the arm to Western economies.

“As you see other markets like China beginning to develop and Asia beginning to develop and Africa growing fast, we have to make sure our businesses can compete,” said Obama, before dining with prominent US and German business leaders including the heads of pharma group Merck, industrial titan ThyssenKrupp and airline Lufthansa.

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