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Donald Trump

Obama to calm world leaders on Trump presidency during last major trip abroad

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 4:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 6:52am

It was supposed to be his grand valedictory tour. Now President Barack Obama must use his last major trip abroad to try to calm shocked world leaders about the outcome of the US election, and what comes next when Donald Trump is president.

Trump’s unforeseen victory has triggered pangs of uncertainty at home and grave concerns around the world. Though Obama has urged unity and said the US must root for Trump’s success, the president’s trip to Greece, Germany and Peru forces him to confront global concerns about the future of America’s leadership.

“In my conversation with the president-elect, he expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships,” Obama told a news conference before his departure. “So one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance.”

“One of the most important functions that I can serve at this stage ... is to let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship and a recognition that those alliances aren’t just good for Europe, they’re good for the United States and they’re vital for the world,” he said.

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“The mood of Greek people for this political change is ‘wait and see,’” Nikos Pappas, a minister of state with close ties to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said in an interview. There was surprise in Greece, as elsewhere, about Trump’s victory, but he added: “Everybody would be expecting the US government is going to continue to be on our side.”

Obama departs Monday on the weeklong trip. Before leaving, Obama planned to face reporters at an afternoon White House news conference certain to be dominated by questions about the election and its consequences for US policy and Obama’s own legacy.

“There is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world. That will continue,” Obama told reporters at the White House.

Obama’s trip, planned when it seemed certain Hillary Clinton would win, had been designed to reassure the world that the US had regained its footing after a toxic campaign that unnerved foreign capitals, noted Heather Conley, a Europe scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Now the president has the unenviable task of telling his counterparts and explaining what Europeans are now coining ‘the Trump effect,’” Conley said.

For months, Obama lent credence to those concerns as he urged Americans to reject Trump. Standing alongside Singapore’s prime minister in August, Obama said Trump was “woefully unprepared” because he lacked “basic knowledge” about critical issues in Europe, Asia and the Mideast. And during a visit to Japan, Obama said world leaders were rightfully “rattled” by Trump.

Now, Obama must reassure the US and other countries that somehow, it will all be OK.

Obama appears to have started the reassurance before he left. On Monday, he spoke with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to express “how much the United States values and depends upon its relationship and collaboration with Mexico,” according to a White House statement on the phone call. The language was a striking contrast to Trump’s campaign promise to force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border.

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Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the president fully expects Trump’s election to be a dominant theme of the trip, but would emphasise his plans to keep carrying out his approach until Trump takes over. He said Obama would argue that basic US principles like honouring treaty commitments have historically survived even the most dramatic changes of administrations.

“He’ll want to use these conversations with leaders to express that view that given all the important issues that we face, no matter what our preferred choice may have been in the election, right now we as Americans have a stake in seeing this next administration succeed,” Rhodes said.

On his trip, Obama is stopping first in Athens, where he’ll tour the Parthenon, meet with Tsipras, and give a speech about democracy and globalisation that will take on new relevance in light of Trump’s election. He’ll use his visit to Berlin to show gratitude to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, his closest foreign partner, and to meet with key European leaders.

In Peru, he’ll attend a major Asian economic summit in Lima, and also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull.

For the most part, foreign leaders have politely if cautiously congratulated Trump on his victory. A few have been more effusive, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose perceived sympathies for Trump became an election issue and who now says he wants to fully restore US relations under President Trump.

In Europe, where Obama has sought unity with allies to counter Russia’s growing influence, NATO members are alarmed by Trump’s suggestions that the US might pull out of the alliance if other countries don’t pay more. Many of the same nations are wrestling with whether last year’s historic climate change deal can be salvaged after Trump’s threats to pull the US out.

Conversely, Trump’s “America first” motto has resonated deeply with nationalists and sceptics of globalisation who see Trump as a kindred spirit. Trump had dubbed himself “Mr. Brexit” after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

America’s Mideast allies are unsure what Trump’s victory means for the nuclear deal with Iran, a foe of US partners Saudi Arabia and Israel, considering Trump’s repeated but vague pledges to renegotiate that deal. And misgivings about Trump will certainly follow Obama to Latin America, where Trump has turned off many with his hard-line immigration stance and description of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.

Asian leaders who painstakingly negotiated a landmark free trade deal with the US are swallowing the reality that Congress will not approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership any time soon.

Obama planned to meet with TPP country leaders in Peru, but the White House acknowledged the deal is all but dead because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has ruled out a vote on it before Trump — who vehemently opposes the deal — takes office.