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On Final Overseas Trip, Obama Reassures Europe

Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama was in Greece Tuesday, bringing to Europe much sought assurances about the U.S. commitment to NATO under the presidency of Donald Trump. Before leaving the United States, Obama said President-elect Trump told him he intends to maintain America’s core strategic relationships.

Athens is the first stop on Obama’s last foreign trip as president.

“We believe a strong, prosperous and unified Europe is not only good for the people of Europe but good for the world, and good for the United States,” Obama told Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos shortly after arriving in the Greek capital.

Before leaving the White House on Monday, President Obama said Trump had expressed to him a “great interest” in maintaining America’s core strategic relations. “And so one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance,” Obama said. The outgoing U.S. leader said he would let European allies know “there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship.”

European leaders, alarmed by Trump’s campaign statements on U.S. commitments, have been anxious for clarification.

Trump’s campaign remarks have also fueled ongoing efforts to establish a European defense force separate from NATO.

At a gathering of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels Monday, they spoke of a more urgent need to set up their own collective defense arrangement in the face of what, in the view of some European leaders, could be a new era of American isolationism.

Ministers on Monday agreed on a defense plan that would, for the first time, allow EU nations to send rapid response forces overseas.

“Europe needs to be able to act for its own security,” said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“Given Trump’s attacks on America’s long-standing security ties in Europe and Asia, U.S. allies have ample reason to worry about the credibility of America’s commitments to their security going forward,” Peter Trubowitz, head of the U.S. Center at the London School of Economics, wrote after the U.S. election.

During his campaign, Trump called NATO “obsolete.” But the remark that perhaps alarmed leaders the most was his suggestion that the U.S. would not automatically defend members if they did not make their minimum contribution to the alliance, which translates into nations’ spending at least two percent of their GDP on defense.

The remarks were seen as a direct hit on the principle of collective defense, a foundation of the alliance. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members.

In Athens Tuesday, Obama said NATO is “absolutely vital” and “provides significant continuity even as we see a transition of government in the United States.”

There are indications that some leaders in Europe will be receptive to Obama’s reassurances about the future of transatlantic relations under Trump.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed hope, saying he is certain that Trump will be a president “who will live up to all the commitments of the United States in the alliance because a strong NATO is important for Europe but it’s also important for the United States.”

Foreign policy achievements

As part of his farewell overseas tour, President Obama hopes to showcase his foreign policy achievements and strides made during his term in the war on terrorism that include the 2011 killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the war on Islamic State militants, and most recently, the launch of U.S.-assisted offensives to retake key cities from IS militants in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.

President Obama will be in Germany on Wednesday before going to Peru later in the week.

This article was first and originally published on VOA NEWS.

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