President seeks to reassure European allies on his final foreign trip in office+ READ ARTICLE
President Barack Obama opened his final foreign trip as president Tuesday with reassuring words in Greece about the U.S. commitment to NATO even as he prepares to hand off to a Donald Trump administration, saying Democratic and Republican administrations alike recognize the importance of the alliance to the trans-Atlantic relationship.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Obama told Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos that a strong NATO is of “utmost importance” and would provide “significant continuity even as we see a transition in government in the United States.” Pavlopoulos, for his part, thanked Obama for U.S. support of the Greek people in a time of social and economic crisis, and said he was confident that Trump “will continue on the same path.”
Trump’s election has generated significant unease in Europe because of his tough talk during the campaign suggesting the U.S. might pull out of the NATO alliance if other countries don’t pay more. Obama’s reassurances reflect an attempt to ease the deep concerns about Trump and the future of America’s treaty alliances.
Obama also met Tuesday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and offered a welcome message of support for the Greeks as they struggle with both economic woes and a huge influx of refugees. Obama pledged to keep pressing his view that “austerity alone cannot deliver prosperity and that it is going to be important both with respect to debt relief and other accommodative strategies to help the Greek people in this period of adjustment.”
Obama is making the first visit to Greece by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 1999. Greece’s government has hailed Obama’s visit as being of “huge importance” for both Greece and Europe. The country’s left-led coalition government has been struggling to pull Greece out of six years of a vicious financial crisis that has devastated its economy and left more than a quarter of the workforce unemployed. Despite the U.S. election, the government has pinned its hopes on the U.S. president to help persuade some of the country’s more reluctant international creditors, such as Germany, to grant it significant debt relief.
The U.S. has praised Greek efforts to overhaul its economy but has repeatedly stressed the country must continue with painful reforms. The country’s bailout funds are disbursed following reviews by international debt inspectors of mandated reforms.
The government will also be looking for recognition of the country’s role in Europe’s refugee crisis, which saw hundreds of thousands of refugees pass through Greece from Turkey on their way to the more prosperous countries of the European north, and for U.S. pressure on the rest of Europe to help shoulder the burden. Following the closure of Balkan land borders and the reluctance of some European countries to host refugees, more than 60,000 people are stranded in Greece, most living in often poor conditions in overcrowded camps dotted around the country.
Rights organizations have urged Obama to use his visit to highlight these people’s plight and Europe’s response to the crisis. Obama should “shine the spotlight not only on abysmal conditions for the tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, but also on the failure of world leaders to adequately address the wider global refugee crisis,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said in a statement.