ATHENS, Greece, Nov. 15 (UPI) — President Barack Obama assured European nations Tuesday of the U.S. commitment to NATO, but echoed his successor Donald Trump’s views that member nations must pay their fair share.
During a bilateral news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, the outgoing president said, “even as we see a transition of governments in the United States, across Democratic and Republican administrations, there’s a recognition that the NATO alliance is absolutely vital and the transatlantic relationship is the cornerstone of our mutual security as well as prosperity.”
Obama praised Greece for investing in its own defense, as required by NATO, something the president said other nations should also be doing.
“I want to take this opportunity to commend Greece on being one of the NATO allies that spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense, a goal we’ve consistently set but not everybody has met,” Obama said. “Greece has done it during even difficult economic times. If Greece can meet this economic commitment, all of our allies should be able to do so.”
While campaigning for president, Trump said the United States should rethink its involvement in NATO because it is paying a disproportionate share to ensure security of allies.
“Frankly, they have to put up more money,” Trump told to CNN in March . “We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much, and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea.”
During a news conference at the White House on Monday, Obama said Trump told him the United States will be committed to NATO as president, despite his past comments.
“He expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships,” Obama said, in describing his conversation with Trump in the Oval Office last week. “And so, one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the transatlantic alliance.”
European nations are hopeful that Obama is correct about transatlantic relations under Trump.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he hopes Trump will be a president “who will live up to all the commitments of the United States in the alliance because a strong NATO is important for Europe but it’s also important for the United States.”
But Obama noted that Trump has recognized the “anger and fear in the American population” over the effects of globalization.
“You’ve seen some of the rhetoric among Republican elected officials and activists and media. Some of it pretty troubling and not necessarily connected to facts, but being used effectively to mobilize people,” Obama said. “And obviously President-elect Trump tapped into that particular strain within the Republican Party and then was able to broaden that enough and get enough votes to win the election.”
Obama said the United States is not alone in embracing populist movements based on a fear of intruding global forces.
“People are less certain of their national identities or their place in the world,” he said. “It starts looking different and disorienting. And there is no doubt that has produced populist movements, both from the left and the right.
“That sometimes gets wrapped up in issues of ethnic identity or religious identity or cultural identity. And that can be a volatile mix.”
Athens was the first stop on Obama’s farewell overseas tour. Obama called Greece “one of our closest allies and one of our greatest friends.”
Obama will be in Germany on Wednesday before going to Peru later in the week.
“We believe that a strong, prosperous and unified Europe is not only good for the people of Europe, but good for the world and good for the United States,” Obama said. “And we also believe that it’s important that all people have opportunity and inclusion in growth inside of Europe. And part of my message as I travel not just to Greece but to meet with other European leaders is to encourage a process that ensures opportunity for all, particularly for the youth of Europe and youth here in Greece.”