Obama assures EU leaders that Trump won't break up alliance at Nato meeting

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) listens while US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference after their meeting at the chancellery in Berlin on Nov 17, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) listens while US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference after their meeting at the chancellery in Berlin on Nov 17, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS) - US President Barack Obama and European leaders on Friday (Nov 18) underscored the importance of working together in Nato and chided Russia for its bombing of Syria and failure to implement a Ukrainian peace accord.

The White House statement followed a meeting at which Mr Obama sought to reassure his counterparts from Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and France that his successor Donald Trump would not break up the transatlantic alliance.

Mr Trump raised concerns during the campaign when he said he could withhold military aid from Nato allies if they had not met their defence commitments and said he would forge closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"President Obama expressed confidence that, even at a moment of great change, democratic values have done more to advance human freedom and progress than any other system in history, and will continue to do so going forward," the White House said.

The leaders agreed on the need to work together to stabilise the Middle East and North Africa, as well as secure diplomatic resolutions for the conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine.

European leaders had sought Mr Obama's support as they prepare to extend sanctions imposed on Russia by Washington and Brussels in 2014 following its intervention in eastern Ukraine, and consider fresh sanctions over Russia's actions in Syria, where it backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that no decisions had been made about extending the Ukraine sanctions, but actions to implement the Minsk peace accord were not sufficient.

EU leaders are expected to rollover the sanctions in December or January before they expire at the end of January.

NEW OFFENSIVES

Dr Merkel said the leaders did not discuss imposing Syria-related sanctions against Russia during their meeting on Friday.

European officials fear Russia will use the time before Mr Trump's inauguration in January to launch new offensives in Syria and Ukraine.

"They unanimously agreed on the continued need for Russia to fully meet its commitments under the Minsk agreements and that Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until it does so," it said.

They said a durable ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was needed to move forward with free and fair local elections in the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The leaders also called for an immediate end to attacks on rebel-held parts of the city of Aleppo by Syrian government forces and their allies Russia and Iran.

Mr Obama said Washington remained convinced that de-escalating the conflict and finding a political solution were "the only viable ways to end the suffering, prevent another migration crisis and move toward a political transition".

European Union leaders last month signalled that they could introduce new sanctions for Russia's actions in Aleppo if the bombing continued.

The Syrian opposition has been pressing Western countries to expand sanctions to include some Russian firms that are supplying weapons and bank notes to Syria.

Syrian opposition leaders are due to meet with EU leaders, including EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in Brussels on Friday.