“I’ve sought a constructive relationship with Russia but what I have also been is realistic in recognising there are some significant differences in how Russia views the world and how we view the world,” Obama said at a press conference with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin.
While not expecting Trump to “follow exactly our blueprint or our approach”, Obama said he was hopeful that his successor would pursue constructive policies that defend democratic values and the rule of law.
Trump, he said, should not “simply take a realpolitik approach and suggest … we just cut some deals with Russia – even if it hurts people or violates international norms or leaves smaller countries vulnerable or creates long-term problems in regions like Syria”.
Asked about Trump’s behaviour during the week following the election, Obama said the role itself would make him a fit president.
“What makes me cautiously optimistic about my successor and the shift from campaign to governance is there is something about the solemn responsibilities of that office, the extraordinary demands that are placed on the United States not just by its own people but by people around the world, that forces you to focus,” Obama said.
“That demands seriousness. And if you’re not serious about the job, then you probably won’t be there very long.”
Meeting for the final time as peers, Obama and Merkel had a series of bilateral meetings, which involved talks about Russian sanctions, the fight against Islamic State, and the future of the EU-US trade agreement in the aftermath of Trump’s election victory.
Merkel, who has been one of the drivers behind the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), came closer than ever to admitting that negotiations over the deal had stalled, saying she was “sure that we will one day come back” to talks about the agreement. TTIP was already in doubt following Trump’s election success and protests across Europe.
Echoing a joint op-ed the two leaders had published in the German magazine Wirtschaftswoche on Wednesday, Merkel insisted there was “no going back to a time before globalisation”.
Obama made an appeal for citizens around the world not to take democracy for granted. “One of the great things about our democracy is it expresses itself in all sorts of ways, and that includes people protesting … I would not advise people who feel strongly or are concerned about some of the issues … to be silent. What I would advise … is that elections matter, voting matters, organising matters, being informed on the issues matters.”
“Do not take for granted our systems of government and our way of life. I think there’s a tendency, because we live in an era that’s been largely stable and peaceful … to assume that that’s always the case. And it’s not. Democracy is hard work. In the United States, if 43% don’t vote, then democracy is weakened. If we are not concerned about facts, and what’s true and what’s not … if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”
Asked whether he expected Merkel to run again at next year’s federal elections, Obama said he made a rule of not meddling with other nations’ affairs, but said: “If I was a German, I would support her”, adding: “But I am not sure whether that helps.”
The US president praised the chancellor as a “veteran”, who was “the only figure left” of those global leaders with whom he had worked most closely during his eight years in office.
While acknowledging that they have not always been on the same page on every issue, he cited Merkel’s “integrity, her truthfulness [and] her thoughtfulness” among the traits he appreciated.
Responding to the rumours that she has already decided to run for a fourth term in 2017, Merkel said she would comment on the matter “at an appropriate time, and that time is not now”.
The final leg of Obama’s last trip to Europe began on Wednesday night with a three-hour dinner at Hotel Adlon with the German chancellor.
On Friday, they will be joined by the British prime minister, Theresa May, the French president, François Hollande, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy.
On Thursday morning, the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, warned that Europe was in danger of breaking apart unless Germany and France developed a new basis on which to show their strength.
At an event in Berlin organised by the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Valls said France must continue to make reforms, including lowering corporate tax, but the country needed Germany to make efforts regarding investment.
Author: Philip Oltermann