Shift­ing ground for for­eign trip

Af­ter Trump vic­tory, Obama won’t be able to tout con­ti­nu­ity to anx­ious al­lies

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION - By Christi Par­sons and Michael A. Me­moli

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Monday heads for Europe and then South Amer­ica to face world lead­ers won­der­ing what to ex­pect from the U.S. af­ter he leaves of­fice, and to de­liver the only hon­est an­swer he has: He just doesn’t know.

Aides to the pres­i­dent have spent the last few days wrestling with what to say about Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump on the global stage. A pri­vate one-on-one meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice a few days ago be­tween Trump and Obama did lit­tle to shed light.

As a re­sult, Obama is plan­ning sim­ply to note Trump’s pub­lic com­mit­ment to work with him on a peace­ful trans­fer of power, and to point to the his­tor­i­cal prece­dent of U.S. pres­i­dents hon­or­ing long-standing al­liances

“Pres­i­dents in both par­ties have been com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing in those al­liances,” White House Press Sec­re­tary Josh Ear- nest said. “That’s cer­tainly what has hap­pened in the past.”

Obama had hoped to be more spe­cific when he first planned this trip months ago. Har­bor­ing a deep con­cern about the un­cer­tain fu­ture of Europe, thrust into its own in­cen­di­ary mix of a rise of na­tion­al­ism amid an in­flux of mil­lions of refugees, he wanted to use his fi­nal of­fi­cial for­eign trip to re­as­sure Euro­pean al­lies and pledge sup­port for shared poli­cies.

At the time, he be­lieved that Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton would be elected to suc­ceed him in the White House and that he’d be en­dors­ing her plans to re­main on the same for­eign pol­icy track af­ter a long and di­vi­sive pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Trump’s elec­tion changed all that. The Repub­li­can pres­i­dent- elect has of­fered few de­tails of his plans for deal­ing with the rest of the world even as he cast him­self as an op­po­nent of ex­ist­ing trade agree­ments, the Iran nu­clear deal and much of Obama’s mil­i­tary strat­egy. He has said he prefers to keep ad­ver­saries Pres­i­dent Obama leaves Monday for a six-day trip to Europe and South Amer­ica. His first stop: Athens, Greece. guess­ing.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to the lead­ers of NATO-al­lied coun­tries, many of whom Obama will meet with this week, is Trump’s pro­fes­sion of ad­mi­ra­tion for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The al­lies are at odds with Rus­sia over its in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine, ag­gres­sion in the Baltics and mil­i­tary sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in the years­long civil war there.

“This trip was re­ally meant to say, ‘You know, we went through it, but we’re go­ing to be fine,’ ” said Heather Con­ley, di­rec­tor of the Europe pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “Now the pres­i­dent has the un­en­vi­able task of ex­plain­ing.”

Euro­pean lead­ers fear “the Trump ef­fect,” she said, and “are very wor­ried be­cause the same pop­ulist, na­tion­al­ist ex­pres­sions, whether that’s on im­mi­gra­tion, whether that is on free trade, has cer­tainly been run­ning very strong po­lit­i­cal cur­rents within Europe.”

Obama doesn’t want to ex­plain or spec­u­late about Trump’s plans, one se­nior aide said. Nor does he want to speak dis­re­spect­fully of the pres­i­dent-elect in pri- vate meet­ings with world lead­ers who may be try­ing to fig­ure out how to deal with or even ma­nip­u­late the new head of state. At the same time, Obama wants to be frank about the con­cerns and as­pi­ra­tions of Amer­i­cans who elected Trump.

The high-wire act be­gins Monday as Obama leaves for Athens, Greece, where he’ll dis­cuss the NATO al­liance and Greece’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery with the coun­try’s lead­ers. He’ll also visit the Parthenon, the an­cient sym­bol of democ­racy and Western civ­i­liza­tion, and de­liver a ma­jor speech on how the world has changed while he has been in of­fice.

On Thurs­day he’ll fly to Ber­lin to pay one fi­nal visit to Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, whom he con­sid­ers his clos­est part­ner over the course of his pres­i­dency. On Fri­day he will take part in a broader meet­ing that also in­cludes the lead­ers of Bri­tain, France, Italy and Spain.

Some see the elec­tion of Trump as height­en­ing the im­por­tance of Merkel, on whom the U.S. has re­lied heav­ily to help man­age the cri­sis in Ukraine and Europe’s eco­nomic fu­ture.

Obama will weigh in with a much larger group of world lead­ers af­ter fly­ing to Peru on Fri­day for a sum­mit of the 21 mem­bers of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion. Obama will pub­licly con­front the like­li­hood that the U.S. will back out of the mas­sive Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade deal he spent years push­ing. Trump made clear on the cam­paign trail that he is against it.

Obama also may have to ac­knowl­edge to all of them, par­tic­u­larly Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, that the Trump- led govern­ment may not live up to the obli­ga­tions of the global cli­mate deal he pushed and that Obama and Xi jump­started with their own agree­ment two years ago.

And the South Korean and Ja­panese del­e­ga­tion will surely want to talk about Trump’s sug­ges­tions dur­ing the cam­paign that it might be a good idea for their coun­tries to ob­tain nu­clear weapons.

Trump’s nu­clear pol­icy re­mains elu­sive. He de­nied Sun­day that he had rec­om­mended Ja­pan or South Korea arm them­selves with nu­clear weapons, though he said so in a fo­rum in March con­cern­ing how to counter North Korea’s ef­forts to ob­tain nu­clear weapons.


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