By Justin Sink - 06/19/13 10:45 AM EDT
President Obama will press for the world's nuclear powers to reduce their weapons stockpiles during a speech Wednesday at the Brandenburg Gate, according to multiple media reports.
The president will renew his call for the United States and Russia to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,000 and 1,100 — down from the 1,550 set under the START treaty ratified in 2010.
The president will also argue Wednesday that the Western world needs to summon the same spirit that led to victory in the Cold War as it faces modern challenges like terrorism and climate change.
The address at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate comes on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech promising American support for West Germany after the Berlin Wall was erected.
"I think the overarching point that he's going to make is the exact same level of citizen and national activism that was characterized in the Kennedy speech and in the Cold War needs to be applied to the challenges we face now," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Tuesday.
But the president will also be under intense pressure to directly address questions about the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs revealed earlier this month by 29-year-old former Defense contractor Edward Snowden.
Political leaders across Europe have expressed particular outrage over the PRISM program, which allows the intelligence service to intercept foreign Internet traffic routed through some of the United States' most popular online services, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook. A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the leader plans to raise the question with the president during their time together.
Last week, Rhodes said the White House understood "the significant German interest in privacy and civil liberties," and that it was possible Obama would address the program publicly while visiting Berlin.
But the speech will be politically loaded for a number of reasons. The gate is the site not only of the Kennedy address, but President Reagan's 1987 call to "tear down this wall" and a 1994 speech by President Clinton outlining America's vision for a post-Cold War Europe.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama spoke near the gate to a massive crowd of supporters. That appearance sparked criticism from his GOP rival Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) who mocked him as a “global celebrity” unprepared to be president.
On Tuesday, Rhodes acknowledged that Obama's remarks would be "a different kind of speech."
"There will be kind of an official component with the kind of leaders of German government and society," Rhodes said, noting that the German government extended the invitation to speak.
Tickets to the event are limited to around 5,000 individuals, far fewer than saw Obama speak in 2008.
The spokesman also noted that Obama would be facing East, toward the formerly communist section of the city — something that was not possible when Presidents Kennedy and Reagan spoke from the site.
"The new U.S. Embassy has been built. The new Reichstag has been built. So he is going to be speaking in a square that essentially symbolizes the transformation of Berlin," Rhodes said.
In addition to the speech, the president is scheduled to meet privately with Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck.
This story was posted on June 18 at 5:09 p.m. and has been updated.