STRASBOURG, France, April 3, 2009 -- At a town hall meeting before a mix of French and German citizens, President Obama said he came to Europe to "renew partnerships" and repair relations between the United States and its allies that had been damaged because of the Iraq War.
"We must be honest with ourselves," the president said. "In recent years, we've allowed our alliance to drift."
Obama said the United States was partly to blame because "there have been times where America's shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe. But he said Europe had to accept responsibility and make changes too.
"In Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans chose to blame America for much of what's bad," Obama said.
Both of these attitudes "do not represent the truth," Obama continued. "America is changing, but it cannot be America alone that changes."
A day after working with his fellow G-20 leaders to reach an agreement on a strategy for dealing with the global recession, Obama arrived in France today for a NATO summit to seek help in battling Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan will be at the top of the president's agenda over the next few days when he sits down with NATO allies at a summit jointly hosted by France and Germany, in the Rhine River cities of Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany.
At the town hall meeting, Obama took a wide range of questions from the audience, who wanted to know what support he expects from European countries in the fight against global terrorism, if there are any updates about the first family's dog and whether he regrets running for president.
Obama warned that the threat from al Qaeda still exists.
"I think that it is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now president and George Bush is no longer president, al Qaeda is still a threat and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president suddenly everything's going to be OK," he said.
Obama said all nations have a role to play in the fight against al Qaeda and preventing future attacks. He said that after NATO's initial engagement in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq "sidetracked" the U.S. and its allies
"We have not fully recovered that initial insight, that we have a mutual interest in ensuring that organizations like al Qaeda cannot operate," he said.
No News on Presidential Puppy
Obama spoke candidly about the loss of privacy and anonymity since he launched his presidential run two years ago and said it was the simple things that he missed the most, especially while traveling in Europe.
"It used to be when I came to Europe that I could just wander down to a cafe and sit and have some wine and watch people go by. And go into a little shop and watch the sun do down," he said. "Now I'm in hotel rooms all the time, and I have security around me all the time. And so just, you know, losing that ability to just take a walk, you know, that is something that is frustrating."
Obama did not reveal any news on the presidential puppy, saying that the dog "should be there soon."
"This is a very important question in the United States -- what kind of dog we're getting," he said.
The summit marks the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was founded as a defense against the then-Soviet Union.
Today, Obama will present his new plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan to leaders from the 28 nations that are part of the alliance. He also met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The president announced last week that he's sending 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and more civilian aid to boost development efforts in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The additional troops being sent to Afghanistan will focus on training the Afghan National Army. These troops are on top of the 17,000 U.S. forces Obama has already committed to arrive in Afghanistan this spring and summer.
"That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home," Obama said.
The president is not at the summit to ask for troops from his NATO partners.
Most leaders have expressed a great reluctance to send troops to Afghanistan as part of the United States' increased presence there.
Instead, Obama is seeking help for the civilian surge to help with reconstruction, training Afghan police, combating drug trafficking and corruption.
Dennis McDonough, White House deputy national security adviser, said earlier this week that the Obama administration is working with NATO allies to "increase resources both as it relates to troops but also as it relates to trainers, as it relates to civilian capacity and as it relates to economic investment and assistance" in Afghanistan.
Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni Sarkozy Start the Glam-Off'
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said it would be a big challenge for the Obama administration to persuade NATO countries to contribute more troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
"They're not going to be doing much. I can predict no more than a few hundred or maybe a couple thousand additional troops at most. It's going to be a big challenge," O'Hanlon said.
The Obamas arrived in Strasbourg, France, this morning and were greeted by Sarkozy and his wife, former Italian supermodel and singer and songwriter Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. The French president turned on the pomp for the visit, with a red carpet arrival ceremony with full military honors from a company of soldiers for the Obamas' arrival at the 18th-century Rohan Palace.
The paparazzi have been on overdrive in anticipation of this meeting, eager for a joint photo op with the two most popular first ladies in the world. Saturday Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy will visit a French cathedral and hospital.
Obama will meet with Merkel in Baden-Baden, Germany. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs denied any reports of friction between the two leaders, over tense economic negotiations at the EU summit, chalking it up to "pregame spin."
Mrs. Obama is scheduled to have lunch with Mrs. Sarkozy in Strasbourg.
The president and first lady will finish their evening with a concert for NATO leaders and their spouses, and will then break off for separate dinners, a working dinner for NATO leaders and another for spouses, both in Baden-Baden.