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Obama seeks to reassure allies in shadow of Trump

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Washington  – The White House had envisioned US President Barack Obama’s final international trip abroad as a chance to shore up his legacy, reconnect with the United States’ most important allies and point to key accomplishments.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise election to the presidency however he will instead spend much of his time in Greece, Germany and Peru offering reassurances about the endurance of the superpower on the world stage.

“The whole trip was designed to give Europe a boost of self-confidence because Europe was increasingly worried about the nature of the US presidential campaign, the tone and tenor coming from then-candidate Donald Trump,” said Heather Conley at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

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File photo of US President Barack Obama after his speech in Berlin on June 19, 2013. Obama begins his three-nation, two continent good-bye tour on Tuesday in Athens, the birthplace of democracy. He will visit Germany and then head to Peru. MICHAEL KAPPELER/DPA

Now Obama is faced with the unenviable task of explaining the result to European leaders increasingly worried about populist movements in their own countries, Conley says.

The White House says it expects “the election will be the primary topic on people’s minds no matter where we go,” according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Obama will continue to run the country, Rhodes stressed, and will press to implement aspects of international agreements questioned by Trump, including the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate accord. Left unsaid is the further along those deals are, the more difficult it will be for Trump to unwind them.

The White House hopes for a “smooth handoff” of international challenges like the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, but declined to speak for the incoming Trump administration about what direction foreign policy might take for the next four years.

“There are certain things that have endured for decades under administrations of different parties,” Rhodes said, pointing to the trans-Atlantic alliance and NATO, including the recent positioning of additional troops in Eastern Europe. However Trump has called for a reevaluation of the US role in NATO and the positioning of troops at bases around the world.

Trump has said his first 100 days will include action to label China a currency manipulator and back out of key trade agreements. Those issues will be at the forefront during Obama’s final stop at an Asia Pacific economic summit that will include bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as Peruvian and Australian leaders.

Obama is to begin his three-nation, two continent good-bye tour on Tuesday in Athens, the birthplace of democracy.

In a key note address Wednesday, Obama will focus on the international effort to overcome the financial crisis when he entered office, a key point of pride for the US leader. But Obama will also focus on the challenges presented by globalization that has left out many workers and led to a rise of popular movements across the globe, including Trump, Rhodes said.

The remarks will echo Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September seen as a swipe at Trump with calls to embrace global integration and reject “walls.”

In Greece Obama will also hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and visit the Parthenon.

Proceeding to Germany, Obama will meet Thursday with Chancellor Angela Merkel, a world leader with whom Obama has shared his years in office, before the next day discussing world issues with a group of European leaders, that also includes British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

“These are our closest partners in Europe, among our closest friends in the world,” Rhodes said.

Obama will then head to Peru for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit Saturday and Sunday.

The Asia Pacific has been a key pillar of Obama’s foreign policy and he will meet there with fellow members of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

The president will have to explain to those leaders that the pact is likely now dead as Trump has rejected the deal and the US Congress will not vote on it before Obama leaves office.

“We still think the TPP agreement makes sense for America,” said Wally Adeyemo, who advises Obama on economic issues tied to international summits.

The US must remain engaged in the region given economic realities, he said.

– dpa