Obama Urges EU Leaders to Cooperate With U.S. Under Trump

Security and foreign policy top agenda at Friday’s meeting

President Barack Obama greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday as they prepare to meet with the leaders of the U.K., France, Italy and Spain.
President Barack Obama greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday as they prepare to meet with the leaders of the U.K., France, Italy and Spain. PHOTO: REUTERS
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BERLIN—President Barack Obama Friday urged the leaders of Germany, France, the U.K., Italy and Spain to continue close cooperation on security and foreign policy issues with the U.S. under future President Donald Trump.

The meeting marked the last time the European leaders convened with Mr. Obama as president as he toured the world to reassure allies anxious about the U.S.’s future role on the international scene after the election of Donald Trump.

“President Obama expressed confidence that, even at a moment of great change, democratic values have done more to advance human freedom and progress than any other system in history, and will continue to do so going forward,” the White House said.

 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama pledged to maintain their longtime alliance, during a joint press conference on Thursday, through the U.S. transition to a Trump presidency and amid concerns about globalization. Photo: Getty

In a speech in Athens on Wednesday, President Obama addressed the transition to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, acknowledging their differences, but urging a continuing faith in democracy. Photo: Reuters

The leaders stressed joint positions on Ukraine, the migration crisis, the Syrian civil war and the importance of multilateral institutions, such as NATO, and working together in the fight against terrorism, according to the statement from the White House.

They called on the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to stop attacks against the city of Aleppo. Ms Merkel, speaking after the meeting, said the leaders didn’t talk about specific sanctions against Russia for its behavior in Syria. European leaders had warned that Russia could be exposed to new sanctions if it continued increasing bombings in Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama reviews an honor guard with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos (R) upon his arrival in Athens, Greece November 15, 2016. © Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

The leaders did agree though that conditions weren’t met right now to lift sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, Ms. Merkel and the White House said.

“We want to make progress in the Minsk process but so far, such progress is unfortunately rather invisible,” Ms. Merkel said, referring to the cease-fire accord for Ukraine.

European leaders are scrambling to assess the possible impact of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president and were hoping for guidance from Mr. Obama on his successor’s intentions, observers said.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump floated possible rapprochements with Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that could conflict with Europe’s current posture toward Moscow and its position in the Syrian conflict. European leaders are also concerned Mr. Trump will demand higher military spending from Europe in exchange for continued U.S. support within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

After the meeting of the six, Ms. Merkel met with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoyand her British counterpart, Theresa May, in separate bilateral meetings.

The British premier said she would update the German chancellor on preparations for exiting the EU, noting that preparations were “on track” for the legal process to leave the EU to begin at the end of March.

Ms. Merkel cautioned, however, that she won’t discuss Brexit at great length with Mrs. May, repeating her promise not to engage in negotiations about the U.K.’s exit before the official process had been launched.

“We shall wait until that motion has been tabled,” Ms. Merkel said, noting that the leaders would discuss a range of other EU-related issues, from migration to NATO.

Since the Brexit referendum in June, London has hoped Germany would help it secure a future arrangement with the European Union that would maintain Britain’s access to the EU’s single market while drastically limiting European immigration to the U.K.

Senior German officials initially sounded optimistic a deal could be struck, but their stance hardened after Ms. May signaled she wouldn’t compromise on the issue of immigration. German and other European leaders insist the free movement of EU citizens is inseparable from membership in the single market.

Friday’s meeting caps Mr. Obama’s last visit to Europe while in office.

From Berlin, Mr. Obama will travel to Peru on Friday to attend a summit of Asian-Pacific leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also scheduled to attend the meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC. The White House isn’t planning a meeting with Mr. Putin, either formal or informal.

Instead, Mr. Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr. Obama is expected to be peppered with questions about the election of Donald Trump as his successor, as he was while traveling in Greece and Germany.

He’ll also have to explain his inability to convince Congress to pass a new trade pact with Asia. White House officials conceded last week that Mr. Obama wouldn’t achieve the Trans-Pacific Partnership before leaving office in January.

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and Bertrand Benoit at bertrand.benoit@wsj.com

Related:

Obama and Merkel dine while people die because of their inaction and failed policies on immigration, Russia’s war with Assad in Syria.

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