Obama, European leaders vow to maintain Nato unity

Dr Merkel and Mr Obama having dinner at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin on Wednesday. Giving a ringing endorsement for the German Chancellor before she announces whether she will run for a fourth term in next year's elections, Mr Obama acknowledged the bur
Dr Merkel and Mr Obama having dinner at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin on Wednesday. Giving a ringing endorsement for the German Chancellor before she announces whether she will run for a fourth term in next year's elections, Mr Obama acknowledged the burdens she faces, but said that "she's tough".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They agree to cooperate on resolving conflict in Syria and put heat on Russia for peace in Ukraine

BERLIN • US President Barack Obama and European leaders have pledged to maintain Nato cooperation, and vowed to keep up sanctions against Russia, in their first meeting since the shock election of Mr Donald Trump sparked fears of drastic policy shifts.

During a fractious United States presidential campaign, Mr Trump had appeared to call into question a near 70-year-old security shield for US allies under Nato, and vowed to withdraw from hard- fought deals on climate change and Iran's nuclear programme.

The US President-elect's friendly disposition towards Russian President Vladimir Putin has also raised questions over his attitude towards Moscow's backing for President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war as well as Russia's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In the talks in Berlin, during which jittery European partners sought reassurances from Mr Obama, the six parties "agreed on the necessity of working collectively to move the transatlantic agenda forward", according to a White House statement yesterday.

That meant "securing diplomatic resolution to the conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine", including putting the heat on Russia through sanctions until it meets its commitments under a peace deal for Ukraine, part of which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The leaders also affirmed the "importance of continued cooperation through multilateral institutions, including Nato".

Ahead of yesterday's huddle in Berlin, Mr Obama sounded a note of cautious optimism that Mr Trump could change his position once he takes office as president.

"There's something about the solemn responsibilities of that office... that forces you to focus, that demands seriousness," Mr Obama said at a press conference after talks with his host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on Thursday.

"And if you're not serious about the job, then you probably won't be there very long. Because it will expose problems."

But Mr Obama also stressed the importance of a united Europe, and urged the bloc not to take for granted the transatlantic relationship that has been built up over decades.

"The EU remains one of the world's great political and economic achievements, and those achievements should not be taken for granted," he said.

The meeting between Mr Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain was the first of its format since Mr Trump's election.

Mr Obama's choice of Berlin as the stop for his European farewell tour has been interpreted by some observers as the passing of the baton of defence of liberal democracy to Dr Merkel.

Giving a ringing endorsement for Dr Merkel before she announces whether she will run for a fourth term in next year's elections, Mr Obama acknowledged that she would have heavy international burdens to shoulder.

"I wish I could be there to lighten her load somewhat. But she's tough," said Mr Obama during his sixth official visit to Germany, before heading off to Lima, Peru, for a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.

A day after Mr Obama's praise for Dr Merkel, her party announced a surprise press conference tomorrow in what is widely believed to be the occasion for the German leader to declare her bid for a fourth term.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Obama, European leaders vow to maintain Nato unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe