Friday 9 December 2016

We must be wary of growing nationalism, warns Obama

Nick Squires in Rome

Published 16/11/2016 | 02:30

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shakes hands with US President Barack Obama during a meeting in Athens. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shakes hands with US President Barack Obama during a meeting in Athens. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama warned of the dangers of succumbing to "crude" nationalism yesterday, in apparent reference to the election of Donald Trump and Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

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The US President made the remarks in Greece at the start of his last foreign trip as leader of the free world.

"We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an 'us' and a 'them'," Mr Obama said in Athens, the first stop on a tour that will also take him to Germany and Peru. "We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up...the 20th century was a bloodbath."

He said the US was all too aware of how "dangerous" it was to "(divide) ourselves along lines of race or religion or ethnicity".

Mr Obama was asked whether he saw any parallels between Brexit and Mr Trump's surprise victory. He said it was clear that people's lives had been disrupted by economic dislocation, globalisation and inequality, and that those concerns needed to be addressed.

"The more aggressively and effectively we deal with those issues, the less those fears may channel themselves into counterproductive approaches that can pit people against each other," he said at a press conference with Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister.

Both the British decision to exit the EU and the election of Mr Trump last week reflected "people's fears that their children won't do as well as they have".

Mr Obama also acknowledged that millions of Americans seemed disappointed with the achievements of his two terms. "Sometimes people just feel as if we want to try something and see if we can shake things up," Mr Obama said. But he insisted that he had reinvigorated the US economy and that after eight years in power "the country's indisputably better off".

Mr Tsipras, who has seen his popularity among Greeks plummet as he enforces austerity measures demanded by the country's international creditors, said he was hopeful Mr Trump would moderate his rhetoric and policy proposals once he assumes power in January.

President Obama sought to assure Europe that the US would maintain its commitment to Nato.

Mr Obama told Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the Greek president, that a strong Nato was of "utmost importance". He pledged that there would be "significant continuity even as we see a transition in government in the United States." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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