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Obama to Young Leaders: ‘Don’t Assume the Worst’ About Trump

  • Cindy Saine

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall with Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016. Obama said tensions over trade are likely under the Trump administration and trade pacts may be modified. But he predicted the administration will "determine that it's actually good both for the United States and our trading partners."

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall with Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016. Obama said tensions over trade are likely under the Trump administration and trade pacts may be modified. But he predicted the administration will "determine that it's actually good both for the United States and our trading partners."

U.S. President Barack Obama had a message Saturday for 1,000 young leaders from around Latin America and the Caribbean on President-elect Donald Trump: “Don’t assume the worst.”

Speaking at a town-hall style meeting in Peru’s capital, Obama took several questions from young people in the audience who were anxious about the future as the U.S. presidency changes hands.

Obama called on them to be optimistic, advising that no one can make things better unless they have hope:

“I think it will be important for everybody around the world to not make immediate judgments, but give this new president-elect a chance to put [his] team together, to examine the issues, to determine what their policies will be,” Obama said.

“How you campaign is not always how you govern,” he added.

Watch: Obama in Peru: 'Democracy Can Be Frustrating'

Town hall with youths

The U.S. president and other world leaders are in Lima for the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, the APEC Summit.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, this is the 52nd and final foreign trip of Obama’s eight years in the White House.

The president appeared to be in his element interacting with young people in Peru Saturday, in a meeting similar to many other town-hall gatherings he has taken part in during previous trips across Asia, Europe and Africa.

Obama received a rock star’s welcome from the crowd, and he sought to reassure everyone in his youthful audience, part of the Young Leaders of America initiative, that they can write their own history. Although his time as president is coming to an end, Obama said, the worldwide network of encouraging entrepreneurship among young people is just beginning.

“The main message I want you to know is that you have a partner in me, and you have a partner in the U.S. government,” he said.

China expresses concern

After the town hall, Obama held a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. In brief remarks to reporters beforehand, Xi expressed concern.

“We meet at a hinge moment in the China-U.S. relationship. I hope the two sides will work together to focus on cooperation, manage our differences and make sure there is a smooth transition in the relationship, and that it will continue to grow going forward,” Xi said.

China's President Xi Jinping (center) speaks to U.S. President Barack Obama at their meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016.

China's President Xi Jinping (center) speaks to U.S. President Barack Obama at their meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016.

After the two leaders met, the White House released a statement saying: “The two leaders reflected on the significant progress they have achieved in strengthening the bilateral relationship through sustained engagement.”

U.S. officials said Obama and Xi addressed the threat presented by North Korea’s efforts to advance its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile systems and affirmed their firm commitment to achieving denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The Chinese and American presidents also pointed to the recent Paris Agreement to combat climate change as an example of their two countries’ progress, and its benefits to the international community.

European and Asian leaders have expressed concern about President-elect Trump’s skeptical statements about climate-change efforts, international trade agreements and international security alliances.

President Barack Obama is welcomed to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) by Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016.

President Barack Obama is welcomed to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) by Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016.

Borders and trade

Latin American leaders including Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski also say they are concerned about Trump’s avowed plan to act quickly and firmly to close U.S. borders to all Latino immigrants trying to enter the United States with inadequate documentation.

Obama has sought to reassure foreign leaders about America’s commitment to bedrock democratic principles and alliances, pointing to his public comments throughout his current trip abroad, which began in Greece and Germany before bringing him to Peru.

Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York Thursday, after Obama had left Washington for Europe. Abe said afterward that he thought Trump was a “trustworthy leader.”

Trump posted on his Facebook page, “It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop by my home and begin a great friendship.”

Tensions are going to rise

Earlier Saturday, Obama met with Peru’s president and with leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries. He tried to highlight a mutual commitment to free trade and to creating good jobs, but Obama has had to concede that the U.S. Congress will not take up the TPP issue now that Trump has been elected.

Watch: Obama: Don't Expect Major Policy Changes on Latin America

The president told the young people at his town hall meeting he does not anticipate the new administration will make major change in U.S. economic policy toward Latin America. However, he warned: “There are going to be tensions that are going to rise, probably around trade more than anything else.”

A cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy was a focus on Asia and the Pacific, the so-called Asia-Pacific rebalance, but that could change substantially after he leaves office in nine weeks.

On Sunday, Obama will meet with APEC leaders once again and then hold a news conference at the end of the day, before returning home. He will be back in Washington Monday.

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