ATHENS -- President Barack Obama delivered a staunch defense of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, amid lingering doubts about the commitment of his successor Donald Trump to maintaining the ties between the U.S. and its closest allies.
"The EU and NATO are extraordinary forces for peace and stability," Obama said in an interview with Greece's Kathimerini newspaper before visits this week to Athens and Berlin. "Europe is our largest economic partner and we have a profound economic interest in a Europe that is stable and growing."
Trump's victory drew a chilly reaction from some European leaders, after the real-estate mogul in his campaign derided a free-trade agreement that Obama's administration has been negotiating with the EU, and called NATO an "obsolete" alliance for which the U.S. pays "far too much." German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said NATO allies are "irritated" with the president-elect's NATO comments, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker mocked Trump on Friday for having allegedly called Belgium a village.
"We need to ... teach to the president-elect what Europe consists of, and based on what principles Europe functions," said Juncker, the head of the EU's executive arm.
In his interview with Kathimerini, Obama hailed European integration as "one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, with benefits for EU members, the United States and the entire world." His soothing defense may do little to quell concerns in Europe in the absence of more clarity from Trump about his plans for foreign policy and trade.
"After World War II, the U.S has been the guarantor of Europe's freedom," said Panagiotis Pikrammenos, former prime minister of Greece. "If this role is being put into question in a potential policy shift from Trump, then Europe will have to renegotiate the whole spectrum of its relations with the U.S," Pikrammenos said in a phone interview.
EU foreign ministers will meet over dinner tonight in Brussels to discuss ties with the U.S. with Trump as president. A joint session of foreign and defense ministers from the bloc is scheduled for Monday, a day before Obama begins his visits to Greece, Germany and Peru.
In Athens, he'll tour the Parthenon, meet with the prime minister and give a speech about democracy and globalization. He'll use his visit to Berlin to show gratitude to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to meet with key European leaders.
In Peru, he'll attend an Asian economic summit in Lima and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said the president expects Trump's election to be a dominant theme of the trip but would emphasize his plans to keep carrying out his approach until Trump takes over.
He added that Obama would argue that basic U.S. principles like honoring treaty commitments have historically survived even the most dramatic changes of administrations.
"He'll want to use these conversations with leaders to express that view that given all the important issues that we face, no matter what our preferred choice may have been in the election, right now we as Americans have a stake in seeing this next administration succeed," Rhodes said.
Obama for months urged Americans to reject Trump. Standing alongside Singapore's prime minister in August, Obama said Trump was "woefully unprepared" because he lacked "basic knowledge" about critical issues in Europe, Asia and the Mideast. And during a visit to Japan, Obama said he wasn't the only world leader worried about Trump.
The U.S. election compounded the shock in Europe as the bloc deals with the decision by U.K. voters to leave the EU, the first secession in the six-decade history of European unification. Like Trump's victory, the U.K. vote was seen as a backlash against the free movement of labor, goods and capital -- the underlying principles of the continent's integration.
"On both sides of the Atlantic, we face the task of ensuring that our political institutions and economic policies are responsive to our people, many of whom feel that they have been hurt by globalization and trade," Obama said in his interview with Kathimerini.
Information for this article was contributed by Nikos Chrysoloras of Bloomberg News and by Josh Lederman of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/13/2016
Print Headline: Obama defends NATO, EU amid rise of Trump