BERLIN — U.S. President Barack Obama is in Berlin, where he will speak Wednesday at the historic Brandenburg Gate and meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The president arrived in Berlin after two days at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland, where the leaders focused much of their attention on efforts to end the bloody conflict in Syria.
Obama and six other world leaders pressured Russian President Vladimir Putin to back away from his support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin refused to do so, but agreed to work toward a political solution to the violence.
White House officials said the administration is pleased with the G8's statement on the matter. After meeting with French President Francois Hollande, Obama applauded the G8 agreement to help the United Nations investigate U.S. allegations that the Assad government is using chemical weapons.
"And that we will continue to work to try to find a political solution to this process and, most importantly, alleviate suffering and ensure that chemical weapons are not used by anyone inside of Syria," said President Obama.
The president also welcomed Tuesday's announcements on Afghanistan - that Afghan forces have taken the lead in their country's security, and that the United States will start direct talks with the Taliban on Thursday.
He said an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the best way to end the violence and ensure lasting stability.
"And so this is an important first step towards reconciliation. Although it's a very early step - we anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road - but the fact that the parties have an opportunity to talk and discuss Afghanistan's future I think is very important," said Obama.
President Obama and Chancellor Merkel are likely to discuss Afghanistan and Syria in their bilateral meeting Wednesday.
Merkel also wants to express many Germans' concerns about U.S. government monitoring of Internet communications. The chancellor said she would call for more transparency in the program, codenamed PRISM. She acknowledged Monday, however, that Washington's surveillance has prevented terrorist attacks on German soil.
The two leaders are expected to discuss trade as well. Obama announced at the G8 summit that Washington will host the first round of talks toward a U.S.-European Union free trade agreement.
Perhaps the most highly visible appearance of the president's Europe trip will be his speech at Berlin's famous Brandenburg Gate. Amid heavy security, about 4,000 invited guests will be allowed to attend. It will be a contrast to the address Obama gave nearby in 2008, when he was running for president and an estimated 200,000 people cheered his speech.