LIMA, PERU - U.S. President Barack Obama finished his final foreign tour in Peru the same way he began it in Europe, trying to reassure other world leaders who are anxious about a possible sharp shift in U.S. foreign policy under President-elect Donald Trump.
Obama met with the leaders of the 21 Asia Pacific Economic Conference in Lima Sunday, still expressing his support for international trade agreements and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, while conceding it is not up to him anymore. He said there already is talk of a new trade agreement with lower standards that would not provide the same level of protection for American workers.
The president said the 21 Asia Pacific economies represent nearly 3 billion people, a majority of the global middle class, and he expressed the hope that the U.S. still could join the TPP, saying trade done right can deliver progress. But Trump strongly opposed TPP on the campaign trail.
Obama said the APEC leaders are moving ahead with making their economies more inclusive – helping more women become entrepreneurs and gain access to all kinds of career paths. Continuing implementation of the Paris agreement on climate change also is a priority, he said.
U.S. policies on trade, climate change and other issues could change dramatically in nine weeks when President-elect Trump takes office, based on statements he made during the campaign.
Obama said he spoke very briefly in between APEC sessions with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine and Syria. He said he told Putin the United States is still deeply concerned about the bloodshed and chaos that is being sown in constant bombing attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian military on civilians in Aleppo. Obama said the issue of Russian interference in the U.S. elections did not come up because “that is behind us.”
At the end of the final news conference of the trip, Obama had some sobering words of advice for the incoming president, saying America is indispensable in protecting the world order and ensuring peace and stability.
“If we are not on the side of what is right, the American president, then it collapses. And there is nobody to fill the void.”
A reporter asked if Obama would refrain from criticizing Trump when he takes office, just as former President George W. Bush refrained from criticizing him. Obama said he planned to take his wife Michelle on vacation, and to get some rest. He said he would be respectful and give the new president space. But Obama did not rule out speaking out if he believed core American values and ideals were threatened.
On Saturday, Obama got a rock star’s welcome from 1,000 young leaders from all over Latin America and the Caribbean at a university in Lima. He sought to reassure everyone in his young audience and asked them not to assume the worst of Trump.
“Democracy means that sometimes you have to compromise, and it means that the outcomes of elections don’t always turn out the way you would hope.”
During his farewell overseas trip, Obama told travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet that the millions of miles he traveled during his eight years in office and the young people he met all over the world give him hope for the future.