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Obama Reassures Allies As He Honors D-Day Sacrifices


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Ladies from around the world gathered on the beaches of Normandy yesterday for the 70th anniversary of the invasion that turned the tide toward the allies.

For President Obama, it was the last stop on a four-day European trip in which he tried to reassure today's allies that the United States is still the Arsenal of Democracy. But the president cautioned the U.S. cannot play that role all by itself and said the weapons for defending democracy may no longer be guns, grenades and bayonets. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This year, June 6 dawned bright and sunny in Normandy, and the waters off Omaha Beach were so tranquil it was hard to imagine the carnage that had once taken place there. The only gun fire on this day came from ceremonial cannons marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.


HORSLEY: President Obama and French President Francois Hollande placed a wreath in honor of the men who died that day and in the bloody days that followed as the allies fought their way through German defenses. Some 37,000 allied troops were killed in the Battle of Normandy, 9,387 are buried in the cemetery at Omaha Beach.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It was here on these shores that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom.

HORSLEY: More than 200 veterans who took part in the D-Day landing were back at Omaha Beach for the anniversary yesterday. Some carried canes or used wheelchairs. A few still proudly wore their own military uniforms.


OBAMA: And gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today.

HORSLEY: The ovation went on for nearly a minute.


HORSLEY: With each passing year, though, fewer veterans are left to share their stories of D-Day and the other battles of World War II that helped define this greatest generation.


OBAMA: So we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold, in our own lives, the values that they were prepared to die for.

HORSLEY: The French president often heard the stories of D-Day as a young boy growing up in Normandy. Hollande said through an interpreter, those shared memories from his elders are a source of hope in the face of today's challenges.


PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through interpreter) We will never forget - we will never forget the sacrifice of the American servicemen.

HORSLEY: Obama praised the sacrifice is still being made by today's men and women in uniform. Part of the president's message in Normandy, as well as earlier this week in Poland, is that the United States will continue to stand up for those who are fighting for self-determination. But White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice says Obama also had a second message as he traveled through Europe - the U.S. can't do it alone.


SUSAN RICE: So it was a message of reassurance on the one hand, but it was also a message of responsibility. Our alliances are two way streets. Our allies who are here or on the frontlines in Europe - and when we talk about European security, we're talking first and foremost about theirs - need to bear their fair share.

HORSLEY: Rice notes many NATO allies have fallen short of their pledge to devote 2 percent of their national economies to defense spending. Rice says Obama is pressing those allies to step up.


RICE: That message was understood and well received because I think the Europeans now - if not before, in light of recent developments, understand that we all have to invest.

HORSLEY: What's driven that home is Russia's recent interference in Ukraine, which was strongly condemned this week by leaders of the G7 countries. G7 members have also warned of additional economic pain for Russia if it doesn't stop the flow of weapons across its border into Ukraine and encourage pro-Russian separatists there to disarm.


RICE: There are a number of specific steps that the G7 leaders are demanding that Russia take. And should it fail to do so, they face a very real prospect of additional sanctions from Europe and the United States.

HORSLEY: President Obama delivered that message directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday when the two men spoke on the sidelines of a D-Day anniversary luncheon. Putin also met yesterday with the newly elected president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. The White House says Putin has an opportunity to de-escalate the crisis beginning with the new president's swearing-in today.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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