European leaders, Obama vow to hold fast to NATO

European leaders, Obama vow to hold fast to NATO

European leaders, Obama vow to hold fast to NATO

AFP photo

U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders pledged Nov. 18 to maintain NATO cooperation, and vowed to keep up sanctions against Russia, in their first meeting since the shock election of Donald Trump as the new U.S. president sparked fears of drastic policy shifts.

During a fractious presidential campaign, Trump had appeared to call into question a near 70-year-old security shield for U.S. allies under NATO, and vowed to withdraw from hard-fought deals on the climate and Iran’s nuclear program.  

The U.S. president-elect’s friendly disposition towards Russian President Vladimir Putin has also raised questions over his attitude toward Moscow’s backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war as well as Russia’s role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In the talks in Berlin during which jittery European partners sought reassurances from Obama, the six parties, leaders of Germany, France, the U.K., Spain and Italy, “agreed on the necessity of working collectively to move the transatlantic agenda forward,” according to a statement from the White House.

That meant “securing diplomatic resolution to the conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine,” including putting the heat on Russia through sanctions until it met its commitments under a peace deal for Ukraine.

The leaders also affirmed the “importance of continued cooperation through multilateral institutions, including NATO.” 

Ahead of the Nov. 18 huddle in Berlin, Obama sounded a note of cautious optimism that Trump could change his position once he takes on the role as president. 

“There’s something about the solemn responsibilities of that office ... that forces you to focus, that demands seriousness,” Obama said at a press conference after talks with his host German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“And if you’re not serious about the job, then you probably won’t be there very long. Because it will expose problems.” 

But Obama also stressed the importance of a united Europe, and urged the bloc not to take for granted the transatlantic relationship that has been built up over decades.

“The EU remains one of the world’s great political and economic achievements, and those achievements should not be taken for granted,” he said.