President Barack Obama has urged his successor Donald Trump to stand up to Russia if it deviates from US “values and international norms”, and not simply “cut some deals” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin when convenient.
In a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama said on Thursday that while he does not expect Trump to “follow exactly our blueprint or our approach”, he is hopeful the president-elect will pursue constructive policies that defend democratic values and the rule of law.
He said Trump should not “simply take a realpolitik approach and suggest that if we just cut some deals with Russia, even if it hurts people or even if it violates international norms or even if it leaves smaller countries vulnerable or creates long-term problems in regions like Syria, that we just do whatever’s convenient at the time”.
Obama began his presidency with a goal to “reset” ties with Russia, but they eventually plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Trump has spoken favourably of Putin, but has outlined few specifics as to how he would go about recalibrating ties with the country.
Meanwhile, Merkel said she was approaching the incoming Trump administration with “an open mind”, and was encouraged that the presidential process in the US was “working smoothly” so far.
It was the final meeting of Obama and Merkel as peers on the world stage, and both leaders spoke glowingly of each other’s leadership.
“We all know that democracy lives off change,” Merkel said.
As for the limit on US presidents serving two terms, Merkel said simply: “It’s a tough rule: Eight years and that’s it.”
Obama, speaking about the Trump presidency, said he was “cautiously optimistic” because “there is something about the solemn responsibilities of that office, the extraordinary demands that are placed on the United States,” that demand seriousness from a president.
“If you’re not serious about the job, then you probably won’t be there very long because it will expose problems,” Obama said.
He added that he had cautioned Trump that the skills that got him elected may be different from those needed to unify the country and to gain the trust of those who did not support him.
People will be watching “what he says” and “how he fills out his administration”, Obama added.
Obama had some advice for the American people as well, urging them not to be complacent about democracy, noting that only 43 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
“Do not take for granted our systems of government and our way of life,” he said. “Democracy is hard work.”
He said he would not advise those protesting against Trump’s election to keep silent.