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Obama Marks 65th D-Day Anniversary In Normandy

A young girl at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach, ahead of the June 6 ceremonies.
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has attended the first of a number of ceremonies to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on France's Normandy beaches, an important World War II breakthrough in the battle against Nazi Germany.

Residents in Normandy towns decked their streets in U.S. and French flags in preparation for Obama's visit. Posters welcoming Obama read: "Yes, we ca(e)n," a cross between Obama's election campaign slogan and the city, Caen which British and Canadian troops captured in 1944 after two months of bitter fighting.

The U.S. president was expected to speak later today at a U.S. war cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, next to one of the D-Day landing sites, codenamed Omaha beach, where thousands of white stone crosses mark the graves of the U.S. war dead.

Time For Diplomacy

Obama also held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at which the U.S. and French leaders issued a joint call for Iran to avoid the pursuit of a nuclear-weapons program.

Obama reaffirmed that there must be "tough diplomacy" with Tehran on the nuclear issue. Sarkozy said he and Obama were united in wanting to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Speaking less than a week ahead of Iranian voting to pick a president, Sarkozy said he worries about "insane statements" by incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who is running for reelection against three challengers.

Sarkozy discussed with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki when they met in Paris this week.

French officials said Mottaki brought a message from Tehran that the Iranians were putting the finishing touches to a counter-proposal to a package of incentives offered by France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia, and China that seeks to encourage Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

Obama also said North Korea's nuclear activities had been "extraordinarily provocative." He also said it was vital to break the "stalemate" in the Middle East peace process, saying all sides had to recognize that their fate was "tied together."

Washington's New Voice

Obama has been seeking to repair ties with France and other European states who were alienated by his predecessor George W. Bush's go-it-alone diplomacy, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and his policies on climate change.

U.S. President Barack Obama in Dresden on June 5
Obama was expected to use his speech at the ceremony to say the United States and Europe are stalwart allies that need to work together to face global challenges including the financial crisis, terrorism along with the war in Afghanistan.

Obama's presence at the D-Day ceremony has almost overshadowed the event, to the point that Sarkozy's failure to invite Britain's Queen Elizabeth prompted accusations that he was trying to make space for himself next to Obama.

Paris said it had respected protocol. Britain said the queen had expected an invitation but had taken no offence, and London is sending Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prince Charles.

Omaha Beach

It is a tradition for American presidents to visit the landing beaches at Normandy where the June 6, 1944, invasion by British, U.S., Canadian, and other troops began a rollback of the Nazi war machine entrenched in Western Europe and helped end World War II the following year.

Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches the 40th anniversary in 1984, Bill Clinton was there in 1994 for the 50th and George W. Bush was there in 2002, and in 2004 for the 60th anniversary.

Obama's visit to France is the final leg of a brief tour that has taken him to the Middle East and Germany, during which he has spoken about the relations between the Palestinians and Israel as well as his country's ties with the Muslim world.

In a landmark speech in Cairo on June 4, Obama called for a "new beginning" in ties, and in Germany he toured the World War II concentration camp at Buchenwald, which he called a "ultimate rebuke" to Holocaust deniers.

Obama's great uncle, Charles Payne, who was involved in the liberation of Buchenwald as a U.S. soldier but did not visit the camp with Obama, would be among the war veterans at the commemoration, a White House official said.

with additional reporting from wire agencies and RFE/RL