BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 19: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Brandenburg Gate on June 19, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. Obama is visiting Berlin for the first time during his presidency and his speech at the Brandenburg Gate is to be the highlight. Obama will be speaking close to the 50th anniversary of the historic speech by then U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Berlin in 1963, during which he proclaimed the famous sentence: 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Obama speaks at Brandenburg Gate
02:57 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Historian calls Obama's speech good, but not a "gold star" in history

President Obama says it's time to "move beyond Cold War postures" on nuclear arms

Obama invokes JFK's "peace with justice" call from 50 years ago

The president speaks at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate

CNN  — 

President Barack Obama followed in the footsteps of past U.S. leaders with a speech on Wednesday at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, where he said he would ask Russia to join the United States in slashing its supply of strategic nuclear warheads.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” Obama said in the city that symbolized the East-West divide in the decades after World War II.

“After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies – and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent – while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” he said. “And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”

Obama’s speech made repeated references to Berlin’s post-war history and the resiliency of its people. He called on them to manifest the same spirit that helped bring down the Berlin Wall to now take on broader challenges facing the modern world.

Does cutting U.S. nukes really matter?

“Complacency is not the character of great nations,” said the president, who perspired openly despite removing his suit jacket when he started speaking to a sun-drenched crowd. “Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half-a-century ago. But the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on.”

Repeating his campaign themes of equal opportunity and freedom for all, Obama said such ideals can provide the prosperity sought by all nations – especially longtime allies such as the United States and Germany.

“We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous,” Obama said. “We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness.”

In the city rife with Cold War history, Obama also heralded democratic values that helped end communist control.

Nuclear weapons: Who has what?

“Because millions across this continent now breathe the fresh air of freedom, we can say here in Berlin, here in Europe: Our values won,” he said to cheers. “Openness won. Tolerance won. And freedom won.”

Obama’s speech took place almost exactly 50 years after President John F. Kennedy delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner” – or “I am a Berliner” – speech of solidarity with West Berlin near the dividing line with the Soviet-occupied east on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin is also where President Ronald Reagan delivered a famous line to the Soviet Union in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

When Obama referred to Kennedy’s speech and repeated the famous phrase, the crowd cheered. He also quoted from Kenned