President Barack Obama said on Monday he would reassure US allies during his trip overseas this week – starting on Tuesday in Greece – that Republican President-elect Donald Trump plans to maintain core US strategic relationships around the world, including with NATO.
Obama, speaking ahead of a trip to Europe and Latin America, said one of the most important things he could do during his visit was to reassure US allies who may be concerned following Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton last week.
Trump slammed NATO allies during the campaign for not paying enough for their own defense and suggested the United States was paying a disproportionate amount that was too much given the changes in the world. He also told the Washington Post the United States could not fund NATO at current levels.
Trump’s comments echoed longstanding US complaints that too many NATO allies do not live up to their pledge to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Only the US and four other NATO allies – Greece, Britain, Estonia and Poland – met the goal last year. France and Turkey have been close.
Despite Trump’s criticism of NATO spending during the campaign, Obama said the president-elect, who takes office on January 20, had indicated he was committed to maintaining ties with US allies.
“In my conversation with the president-elect, he expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships,” Obama told a news conference before his departure. “So one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance.”
“One of the most important functions that I can serve at this stage … is to let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship and a recognition that those alliances aren’t just good for Europe, they’re good for the United States and they’re vital for the world,” he said.
The European Union agreed on a new defense plan on Monday that could see it sending rapid response forces abroad for the first time, a move seen as giving it the ability to act without the United States if necessary. The action appeared to be galvanized in part by Trump’s criticism.
Obama is visiting Greece, Germany and Peru on his last trip abroad as president. He is expected to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders in Germany and Greece. In Peru he will see Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Pacific leaders at an economic summit.
Obama said US foreign policy remained quite stable despite changes in administration, in part because of the breadth of US government interactions with other nations.
“There is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world. That will continue,” Obama told reporters at the White House.