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Obama to use Germany visit to push trans-Atlantic trade deal

AERZEN, Germany – President Barack Obama, beginning a visit Sunday to Germany, hoped to build momentum for a U.S.-Europe trade deal that has become a tough sell, particularly in Germany.

Other issues were on the agenda for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, including efforts to counter the Islamic State group, improve co-operation on counterterrorism, and encourage countries to share law enforcement information. IS says it was responsible for attacks that killed 30 people in Brussels last month.

Obama also wants to give Merkel public praise for her “courageous” handling of the migrant issue. Her decision to allow the resettlement in Germany of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in Syria and other areas of conflict in the Mideast caused an angry domestic backlash.

Merkel recently helped European countries negotiate a deal with Turkey to help stem the migrant flow, but she and the other leaders are now under pressure to revisit it.

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was a main factor behind what likely is Obama’s final stop in Germany before he leaves office in January. He planned to join Merkel at the Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial technology trade fair, to promote the agreement.

Thousands of people took to the streets in protest in Hannover on Saturday, the day before Obama arrived. Some carried placards that said “Yes We Can — Stop TTIP!” It was a riff on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan.

In November, more than 100,000 people in Berlin protested against the proposed pact.

Proponents say the deal would boost business at a time of global economic uncertainty. Critics fear the erosion of consumer protections and environmental standards.

Negotiators in Washington and Europe are trying to finalize key parts of the deal before the end of the year, after which Obama’s successor and election campaigns in major European countries could further complicate the already difficult negotiations.

Obama said it was important to conclude negotiations even though Congress is unlikely to ratify the deal before he leaves office. “But if we have that deal, then the next president can pick that up rapidly and get that done,” he told the BBC in an interview broadcast Sunday.

In London on Saturday, he argued for the pact while acknowledging the tough work needed to complete it.

Despite “enormous amounts of trade” between the U.S. and Europe, “there’s still barriers that exist that prevent businesses and individuals that are providing services to each other to be able to be able to do so seamlessly,” he said. The pact will bring millions of jobs and billions of dollars in benefits to both sides of the Atlantic, Obama said.

Negotiating trade deals “is tough,” Obama said, because each country fights for its own interests.

“The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth,” he said.

Merkel is the world leader with whom Obama has worked throughout his two terms, in good and bad times, and he planned to use the visit to show political solidarity, particularly on the migrant issue. Her approach to the crisis, which dented her popularity at home, “has been courageous,” he said.

Merkel and top European officials travelled near the Turkish border on Saturday to promote the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

“She’s demonstrated real political and moral leadership,” Obama told the German daily Bild in an interview published Saturday. “The politics around refugees and immigration is hard in any country, but I believe the best leaders are willing to take on the toughest issues, especially when it’s not easy.”

Obama was likely to contrast Merkel with the Republican presidential candidates in the United States who want to block Muslims from entering America.

On Monday, Obama was to give a speech addressing the challenges facing the United States and Europe.

Merkel has used the occasion of Obama’s visit to invite the leaders of France, Britain and Italy to Hannover that day for a meeting expected to focus on Syria, Libya, IS, migration and other issues.

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Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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