President Barack Obama, making a final return as President to Berlin Thursday, issued a warning to President-elect Donald Trump in his dealings with Russia.
He cautioned on issues like Ukraine and Syria, Moscow must be confronted head-on. He advised Trump against making deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin that could hurt Americans.
“I don’t expect the President-elect will follow exactly our blueprint or our approach, but my hope is he does not simply take a realpolitik approach and suggest we cut some deals with Russia, even if it hurts people or violates international norms or leaves smaller countries vulnerable,” he said.
But Obama said his hope is that Trump is “willing to stand up to Russia where they are deviating from our values and international norms.”
Obama’s visit to Berlin marks his final one as president. It’s the city where he introduced himself to the world in 2008 but where he now faces persistent questions about the future of transatlantic ties and liberal progress.
Obama spent most of his time huddling with Merkel, his closest counterpart who is now Europe’s most powerful leader as the continent prepares for Donald Trump’s presidency. Among her challenges: checking Putin’s global aggression in an age of uncertain global alliances.
In bidding farewell to his most stalwart global ally, he assured Merkel — and Europeans more broadly — that turbulent politics won’t shake the global order.
“I think our politics everywhere are going to be going through a bumpy phase,” Obama said, an attempt to downplay the wave of nationalist populism that has spread across Europe and propelled Trump’s victory.
“As long as we stay true to our democratic principles, as long as elections have integrity, as long as we respect freedom of speech, freedom of religion, as long as there are checks and balances in our governments…then I have confidence that over the long term, progress will continue.”
Just after touching down here Wednesday evening, Obama spent hours dining with Merkel at his hotel in central Berlin. The pair is set to resume talks Thursday afternoon before taking reporters’ questions.
As her European counterparts face political challenges at home, Merkel has assumed a critical role in transatlantic ties, voicing strong support for Obama’s priorities on climate change, Russian sanctions and economic reform.
Obama and Merkel have repaired relations that soured after revelations the US National Security Agency spied on Merkel’s cell phone. Obama now looks to Merkel to carry his priorities into an uncertain future with Trump in the White House.
The German leader has not yet said whether she’ll run for a fourth term next year, though her political allies have signaled she will. Like leaders in France, Britain, the US and elsewhere, she’ll face challenges from far-right politicians who are running on an agenda of populist nationalism.
In a joint op-ed published in the German magazine Wirtschaftswoche, the two leaders argued globalization wasn’t leaving, despite the momentum behind anti-trade movements.
“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads — the future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalization economy,” the leaders wrote. “Germans and Americans, we must seize the opportunity to shape globalization based on our values and our ideas. We owe it to our industries and our peoples — indeed, to the global community — to broaden and deepen our cooperation.”
Obama finds himself in Germany in a vastly different political environment than when he first spoke here as a candidate in 2008. Back then, a crowd of 200,000 gathered in the city’s Tiergarten to hear a young senator extoll the necessity of multilateral ties after George W. Bush-era tensions.
Europeans had grown wary of the US during Bush’s presidency. They regarded Obama as an urbane, liberal counterpoint to a Republican administration that had grown derisive of Europe in the debate over the Iraq War.
During his 2008 speech, Obama lauded open and diverse societies.
“The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand,” Obama said then. “These now are the walls we must tear down.”
Now, as Trump drafts plans to erect a wall on the US border with Mexico, those words seem from a distant past. On his final overseas trip as president, Obama is working to ease concerns about the looming change in Washington.
He told a crowd in Athens Wednesday that transatlantic ties would remain strong, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. But he warned that ignoring fears over globalization would end poorly for leaders.
“This impulse to pull back from a globalized world is understandable,” Obama said in the Greek capital. “If people feel that they’re losing control of their future, they will push back.”