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First thoughts: Obama in Germany

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama in Germany: At a press conference in Dresden earlier this morning with German Chancellor Merkel, President Obama reiterated his call from yesterday for Middle East peace, saying the "moment is now" for action. "Ultimately, the United States can't force peace upon the parties," he said. "But what we've tried to do is to clear away some of the misunderstandings so that we can at least begin to have frank dialogue." Obama also addressed Gitmo and the possibility of putting its prisoners in countries like Germany. Calling it "a very difficult issue," he said, "Chancellor Merkel has been very open to discussions with us. We have not asked her for hard commitments, and she has not given us any hard commitments beyond having a serious discussion about are there ways that we can solve this problem. And I don't anticipate that it's going to be resolved anytime in the next two or three months. I think it's going to be a longer process of evaluation." The two leaders also discussed trade, climate change and Iran. Later today, at 9:15 am ET, Obama tours the Buchenwald concentration camp. And then, at 11:50 am, he will meet with injured U.S. troops at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Tomorrow, Obama hits the last leg of his overseas trip: attending the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.

*** Now what? As we reported last night on "Nightly News," Secretary of State Clinton made perhaps the most important comment after Obama's big speech yesterday, when she said, "Now we have to get to work to translate that into concrete action."

At the press conference, Obama was asked about that "concrete action," and one piece of news he made was that he was sending Middle East special envoy George Mitchell to the region next week. The most important part of Mitchell's trip may be his meeting schedule. For instance, will he meet with anyone from Hamas on this trip? (We've been told no, but at some point, he has to, right?) The president, in his speech yesterday, seemed to lay out a scenario in which Hamas could play a role if it put down its arms and acknowledge Israel's right to exist. It's not something new for a U.S. president to say that; Bush made similar remarks about Hamas after it won elections in the Palestinian territories. The Hamas issue with the Palestinians is going to be something to watch, as it's not clear the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas speaks for all Palestinians.

*** A deadline? Also at the news conference, Merkel may have accidentally made some news when she hinted that she and the president discussed a specific "timeframe" for the Mideast peace process. Here's Merkel (transcribed from German): "We also talked about a possible time frame for possible progress to be made." She ducked a specific question about the remark, and the White House won't comment on a timeframe other than to say they are taking on this issue now, not later in their presidency. As much as the U.S. wants to duck any public call for a specific timeframe for Middle East peace talks, negotiations usually don't begin to pick up momentum without a deadline hanging over the head of the involved parties. After all, when do any of us get anything done without a deadline? Also, keep in mind that Merkel may want to be seen as pushing the process along for her own domestic political needs, so we wouldn't be surprised if she inserted the time frame stuff in her remarks at the surprise of the White House.

Video: President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint press conference one day after his trip to the Middle East.

*** Trip down memory lane: The rest of Obama's day -- visiting Landstuhl and Buchenwald -- brings up two memories from the 2008 presidential campaign. First, Team McCain criticized Obama when he didn't visit the Landstuhl hospital while on his big overseas trip to Europe. (The Obama campaign countered that he visited the U.S. troops while in Iraq and Kuwait.) Second, speaking in New Mexico on Memorial Day last year, Obama said that his great-uncle helped liberate Auschwitz, which would have been impossible -- unless his great-uncle served in the Red Army, since the Soviets were the ones who liberated that camp. The Obama campaign later clarified that the great-uncle, Charlie Payne, helped liberate a camp at Buchenwald. By the way, Payne recently gave an interview to Der Spiegel, in which he said that Obama's Buchenwald trip is for "political reasons"; that he's proud of his great-nephew; and that he'd be going to back to Buchenwald with Obama if he could get a ride on Air Force One. As it turns out, per the White House, Payne won't be at Buchenwald today, but he'll be with Obama tomorrow in Normandy.  

*** A stimulus 'exit strategy'? By the way, in a conference call with White House reporters, two senior administration officials helped give a readout of today's earlier Obama-Merkel bilateral. In response to a question about what Merkel meant when she said the two debated a bit when it came to their philosophies for tackling the economic crisis, one senior administration official said that Merkel pushed the fact that her government (and the U.S.) needed an "exit strategy" from government stimulus. And, according to these officials, the president agreed. Anyway, it's a fascinating statement that we're guessing we'll see a lot made of it. One, it's an acknowledgment by the administration that they need to start tackling this deficit issue (public is starting to notice the money being spent). Two, it may inadvertently imply that the administration is now ruling out the idea of a "second stimulus." Now, obviously, some in the White House would say we're drawing WAY too many conclusions off of that statement, but the fact is a statement like "exit strategy" from stimulus makes it much harder to justify going back to the government stimulus well, right? OK, Boehner/Cantor, et al, DISCUSS!

*** Sanford's and Palin's stimulus setbacks: Speaking of the stimulus, two conservative GOP governors -- South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Alaska's Sarah Palin, both 2012 possibilities -- appear to have suffered setbacks in their crusades against the Obama stimulus. The South Carolina Supreme Court yesterday ordered Sanford to request $700 million in stimulus funds (intended primarily for the states struggling schools), and Sanford says he'll comply with that request. Meanwhile, the Alaska Legislature seems poised to override Palin's veto of $28.6 million in stimulus money.

*** It's the economy…: The unemployment rate for the month of May jumped to 9.4%, up from 8.9% last month. It's the highest unemployment rate since August 1983. The economy also shed another 345,000 jobs. But the jobs losses were less than the 525,000 expected. And it beats the average decline of more than 600,000 jobs a month for the past six months. The unemployment rate, however, was higher than the projected 9.2%.

*** Four days to go: And with Virginia's gubernatorial race just four days away -- and with two new polls showing Creigh Deeds in the lead, although within the margin of error -- be sure to tune into MSNBC this morning for interviews with the three Dem candidates: Deeds, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran. 

Countdown to VA Dem primary: 4 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 151 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 515 days

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