Obama calls Trump "pragmatic," says next president will keep U.S. pledges to NATO

WASHINGTON, U.S - Seeking to assuage concerns, U.S. President Barack Obama said he will deliver a message to the country's allies that president-elect Donald Trump remains committed to the ...

• Trump recognises campaigning is different from governing: Obama

• Americans should 'reconcile themselves' to Trump presidency: Obama

• Obama speaks optimistically about the president-elect's ability to govern

WASHINGTON, U.S - Seeking to assuage concerns, U.S. President Barack Obama said he will deliver a message to the country's allies that president-elect Donald Trump remains committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). 

The president is travelling to Greece, Germany and Peru this week. 

The three-country foreign trip is expected to be the last of his presidency. 

"I figure, why wait?" he told reporters.

He's scheduled three news conferences during the trip, one on each leg, adding up to an extraordinary one-week stretch in which he'll face the press four times.

Speaking to reporters during a press conference on Monday, the president said Trump "expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships" when they spoke last week at the White House.

"I think that's one of the most important functions I can serve at this stage, during this trip, that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America's commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship," Obama said. "And that there is recognition that those alliances aren't just good for Europe, but they're good for the United States and vital for the world."

Trump had slammed NATO allies while on the campaign trail for not paying enough for their own defense and suggested the U.S. was paying a disproportionate amount that was too much given the changes in the world. 

Trump's comments echoed longstanding U.S. complaints that too many NATO allies do not live up to their pledge to spend two percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Meanwhile, the European Union agreed on a new defence plan on Monday that could see it sending rapid response forces abroad for the first time, a move seen as giving it the ability to act without the United States if necessary.

The action appeared to be galvanised in part by Trump's criticism.

In other words of advice for Trump and the people, Obama said Americans had to "reconcile themselves" to the Trump presidency, and — in a surprising turnabout from his pre-election rhetoric — spoke optimistically about the president-elect's ability to govern. 

These post-election remarks seemed utterly at odds with the national mood, however.

Urging the people to give the future president a chance, he said, “The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next President, the 45th President of the United States. And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies. And those who didn’t vote for him have to recognise that that’s how democracy works. That’s how this system operates,” Obama said.

“When I won, there were a number of people who didn’t like me and didn’t like what I stood for. And I think that whenever you’ve got an incoming president of the other side, particularly in a bitter election like this, it takes a while for people to reconcile themselves with that new reality,” he told reporters at the White House when asked about some of the controversial appointments being made by the business tycoon, who will soon be America’s commander-in-chief.

Only a week ago, Obama was on the campaign trail in New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton, branding Trump unfit to handle the nuclear codes. 

Yet on Monday, the president argued that the magnitude and the stakes that come with being the most powerful man in the world would moderate Trump's rhetoric and behavior.

"Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up," Obama said. "Those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don't match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself."

The president also had some words of praise for his successor's political acumen.

"What's clear is that he was able to tap into — yes, the anxieties, but also the enthusiasm of his voters in a way that was impressive," he said. And that connection with his supporters made him "impervious to events that might have sunk another candidate.”

"That's powerful stuff," he said.

And there was some important advice for the next president, saying it was now up to Trump to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.

Trump "is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with," Obama said. "I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately he is pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well as long as he has got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction."

He warned Trump that his flamboyant rhetoric and freewheeling behavior on which he built his political brand, could backfire as president.

In effect he was telling Trump: Be careful what you say.

"I think what will happen with the president-elect is there are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognises them and corrects them," Obama said. 

"When you're a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you're president of the United States.”

"Everybody around the world is paying attention. Markets move. National security issues require a level of precision in order to make sure that you don't make mistakes," he added.

Obama also mounted a fierce defense of his own presidency - challenging Trump to build on his achievements not to destroy them and urged the new president to reach out to women and minorities scared about his impending administration.

But most of all, Obama seemed intent on getting the man who will succeed him on January 20 next year, up to speed on all matters of government.

"As I said to the president-elect when we had our discussions... campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognises that. I think he's sincere in wanting to be a successful president," Obama said.

At the onset of his press conference, the president couldn't however resist taking a dig at Trump. 

Obama said he and his team stand ready to help accelerate Trump’s transition into the White House.

He noted that norms such as “civility, tolerance, reason and facts” are “vital to a functioning democracy.”

He then went on to add that these norms will continue to be upheld “as long as I’m president”. Ouch.


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