BERLIN — Summoning the harsh history of this once-divided city, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cautioned the United States and Europe against "complacency" brought on by peace, pledging to cut America's deployed nuclear weapons by one-third if Cold War foe Russia does the same.
The president also declared that his far-reaching surveillance programs had saved lives on both sides of the Atlantic, as he sought to defend the controversial data-mining to skeptical Europeans.
Speaking against the soaring backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, Obama said that "bold reductions" to the U.S. and Russian nuclear forces were needed to move away from the war posture that continues to seed mistrust between their governments.
The president's address drew inevitable comparisons to John F. Kennedy's famous Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner) speech exactly 50 years ago.
"We may not live in fear of nuclear annihilation, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe," Obama said as he closed a three-day visit to Europe, his first trip to the continent since winning re-election.
Obama's nuclear pledges signaled an effort by the White House to revive a national security matter that has languished in recent years. But he set no deadlines for reaching a negotiated agreement with the Russians and his proposals were quickly questioned by officials in Moscow.
Russian foreign affairs official Alexei Pushkov told the Interfax news agency the proposals needed "serious revision so that they can be seen by the Russian side as serious and not as propaganda proposals." And Yuri Ushakov, foreign policy aide to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that Moscow had already told the White House that any further arms reduction would have to involve countries besides just Russia and the United States.
Privacy-protective Germany was eager for answers about the sweeping programs run by the National Security Agency. Chancellor Angela Merkel used a news conference with Obama on Wednesday to appeal for "due diligence" in evaluating the privacy concerns, though she avoided a direct public confrontation with the president.
Obama offered a lengthy defense of the court-approved surveillance of Internet and phone records, describing it as a targeted effort that has "saved lives."
"We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information, not just in the United States but in some cases threats here in Germany," he said.