US President Barack Obama joins French and British leaders and World War II veterans to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. The eagerly awaited star guest of the commemorations will deliver a speech before 9,000 people.
REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on France’s Normandy beaches, an important World War Two breakthrough in the battle against Nazi Germany.
Residents in Normandy towns decked their streets in U.S. and French flags in preparation for Obama’s visit. Posters welcoming Obama read: “Yes, we ca(e)n,” a cross between Obama’s election campaign slogan and the city, Caen which British and Canadian troops captured in 1944 after two months of bitter fighting.
Before taking part in the anniversary ceremony, Obama will hold talks in nearby Caen with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Among the issues on the agenda will be Iran’s nuclear programme which Sarkozy discussed with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki when they met in Paris this week.
French officials said Mottaki brought a message from Tehran that the Iranians were putting the finishing touches to a counter-proposal to a package of incentives offered by France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China that seeks to encourage Iran to halt uranium enrichment.
The two leaders will then attend the anniversary event at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, next to one of the D-Day landing sites, codenamed Omaha beach, where thousands of white stone crosses mark the graves of the U.S. war dead.
Obama has been seeking to repair ties with France and other European states who were alienated by his predecessor George W. Bush’s go-it-alone diplomacy, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and his policies on climate change.
Obama will likely use his speech at the ceremony to say the United States and Europe are stalwart allies that need to work together to face global challenges including the financial crisis, terrorism along with the war in Afghanistan.
Obama’s presence at the D-Day ceremony has almost overshadowed the event, to the point that Sarkozy’s failure to invite Britain’s Queen Elizabeth prompted accusations that he was trying to make space for himself next to Obama.
Paris said it had respected protocol. Britain said the queen had expected an invitation but had taken no offence, and London is sending Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prince Charles.
It is a tradition for American presidents to visit the landing beaches at Normandy where the June 6, 1944, invasion by British, U.S., Canadian and other troops began a rollback of the Nazi war machine entrenched in Western Europe and helped end World War Two the following year.
Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches the 40th anniversary in 1984, Bill Clinton was there in 1994 for the 50th and George W. Bush was there in 2002, and in 2004 for the 60th anniversary.
Obama’s visit to France is the final leg of a brief tour that has taken him to the Middle East and Germany, during which he has spoken about the relations between the Palestinians and Israel as well as his country’s ties with the Muslim world.
In a landmark speech in Cairo Thursday Obama called for a “new beginning” in ties, and in Germany he toured the World War Two concentration camp at Buchenwald which he called a “ultimate rebuke” to Holocaust deniers.
Obama’s great uncle Charles Payne, who was involved in the liberation of Buchenwald as a U.S. soldier but did not visit the camp with Obama, would be among the war veterans at the commemoration, a White House official said.
Date created : 2009-06-06