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In Strasbourg on Friday, the American president danced delicately, diplomatically and decisively.
Obama’s next stop after the press conference was a packed hall, with an audience that included throngs of young people taking part in NATO’s Youth Summit. There, Obama spoke with even more candor about the relationship between Europe and America and addressed some of the reasons for strains and why it was important to put that aside and work together. “We must be honest with ourselves,” he began.
In recent years the alliance has been allowed to drift, he said. He said there was a failure in America to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world and that America has shown arrogance as well as a dismissive and sometimes derisive attitude toward Europe. But he didn’t stop there.
He said anti-Americanism in Europe, while at once casual, could be insidious, and he pointed to times when Europeans tended to cast blame on America. He said those attitudes on both sides have become too common and threatened to leave both sides more isolated.
“America is changing,” Obama said. “But it cannot be America alone that changes.”
His comments drew a burst of loud applause when he discussed steps that both Russia and and the United States were taking to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.
And as if answering Sarkozy’s point about Guantanamo, Obama reiterated that closing the prison was a good decision, saying that he did not believe there was a “contradiction between our security and our values.”
Without naming any countries in particular, Obama spoke more firmly about Europe’s responsibility in Afghanistan and in confronting terrorism, stating that an Al Qaeda attack was possible in Europe.
“Europe should not simply expect the United states to shoulder that burden alone,” Obama said. “This is joint problem and requires joint effort.”
Obama was very clear about the mission in Afghanistan, which is the biggest point of contention with European allies.
“We have no interest in occupying Afghanistan,” he said. “This is a mission that tests if nations can come together on behalf of our common security.”