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Obama to Reassure EU Allies, China on Final Trip

  • Cindy Saine

FILE - President Barack Obama waves as he walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, before a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

FILE - President Barack Obama waves as he walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, before a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Barack Obama’s final scheduled foreign trip as president of the United States is likely to take on a more sobering tone after the surprise election of Republican Donald Trump, whose vows to abandon some of Obama's priorities has caused concern in many parts of the world.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes briefed reporters on Obama’s trip on a conference call Friday.

Rhodes conceded that Trump’s unexpected election and its impact on bilateral relations and international agreements will likely be the primary topic on world leaders’ minds.

President Obama first travels to Greece, where he will visit the Parthenon and deliver a major speech in Athens on the challenges raised by globalization.

From there, Obama heads to Germany, where he will hold a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a joint press conference on Thursday. He will also meet with the leaders of Britain and France in Berlin.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016.

From there, Obama travels to Lima, Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. On the sidelines of that summit, Obama will have a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday.

Rhodes was asked repeatedly if the trip would be overshadowed by the election of Trump, who has vowed to undo many of what Obama considers his major foreign policy accomplishments, such as the Paris agreement on climate change and the deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

NATO alliance

Rhodes said the Obama administration strongly believes in the importance of these agreements, but the president-elect will speak for himself and make his own decisions once he takes office in January.

However, Rhodes pointed out that some of the agreements are international, not bilateral, and some, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), involve crucial alliances that have been a cornerstone of global stability.

“There are certain things that have endured for decades under administrations of different parties. The trans-Atlantic alliance is certainly one of those. The NATO alliance is certainly one of those," he said.

"We’ve taken steps during our time in office to enforce the NATO alliance to reassure eastern European allies to move significant military personnel and equipment to our eastern flank to make sure that those nations are reassured and also to work with NATO as we counter terrorism and deal with refugee flows," Rhodes added.

President-elect Trump has shaken some NATO allies by questioning whether Washington should defend them because some have not "fulfilled their obligations" to the United States.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (C) talks with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos (2nd R) at a family photo during a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium Feb. 10, 2016.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (C) talks with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos (2nd R) at a family photo during a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium Feb. 10, 2016.

European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told students in Luxembourg Friday that Trump's election risks upsetting U.S. ties with Europe.

"The election of Trump poses the risk of upsetting intercontinental relations in their foundation and in their structure," Juncker said.

As the head of the EU Commission's executive, Juncker is one of Europe's most powerful political figures. His blunt take is in contrast to more diplomatic reactions to the U.S. election results from European leaders, such as German Chancellor Merkel.

Strategic landscape

Rhodes said the national security team will work closely with Trump's team to brief them on the strategic landscape of the world so they will be able to get off to a quick start.

On the APEC summit, Wally Adeyemo, the deputy national security adviser for international economics, conceded that the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement will likely be up to Trump and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Adeyemo said Obama continues to believe these trade agreements make sense because China will not stop working on regional agreements.

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