Obama reassures Europe: Nato alliance vital to US interests

US President Barack Obama holds a press conference with Greek prime minister after their meeting at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on Nov 15, 2016.
US President Barack Obama holds a press conference with Greek prime minister after their meeting at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on Nov 15, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • The Nato alliance is "absolutely vital" to US interests, President Barack Obama said yesterday as he flew in to Europe to reassure jittery allies concerned by Mr Donald Trump's shock presidential election win.

Speaking in Athens on the first leg of his last foreign trip as leader, Mr Obama stressed that a strong Europe was "good for the world and the US", after Mr Trump appeared to downplay the importance of historic transatlantic ties.

Europeans, especially in eastern countries closest to Russia's orbit, have been shaken after Mr Trump appeared to call into question Washington's near 70-year security guarantee by saying he would help Nato allies only if they paid their way.

REALITY BITES

Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. Reality has a way of asserting itself.

US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, on Mr Donald Trump

But Mr Obama stressed that the transatlantic relationship was the "cornerstone of our mutual security as well as prosperity", and that was the case regardless of who was sitting in the Oval Office.

Yesterday, he acknowledged - when asked to compare Brexit and the US presidential election - that there was a "common theme" among advanced economies that have produced populist movements from both the left and right.

"It's important to recognise those trends have always been there, and it's the job of leaders to try to address people's real and legitimate concerns and channel them in the most constructive way possible."

Mr Obama travels to Germany today, where he will speak with close ally, Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the French and British leaders. He concludes his trip with a stop in Peru for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, where he is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Speaking to reporters on the eve of the trip, Mr Obama cautioned his brash successor that he faces a reality check if he tries to enact some of his more controversial campaign promises.

He said deporting millions of immigrants, tearing up mutual defence treaties with Nato and Japan, and unravelling global deals on Iran's nuclear programme and the environment were not as simple as delivering tub-thumping rhetoric.

"Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up," Mr Obama said.

"Reality has a way of asserting itself," he added, offering his view that Mr Trump was pragmatic rather than ideological.

He said that, during a meeting with Mr Trump at the White House last week, he had told the President-elect that his actions could move markets, tanks and public sentiment.

"Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course, I have concerns. He and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But the federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat - it's an ocean liner."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'Obama reassures Europe: Nato alliance vital to US interests'. Print Edition | Subscribe