Thursday 22 March 2018

Obama's policy agenda overshadowed by Trump in Peru summit

Barack Obama (AP)
Barack Obama (AP)

US president Barack Obama has sought to tie up his foreign policy agenda at an international summit in Peru - but found world leaders more focused on his successor at the White House.

Global hand-wringing over US president-elect Donald Trump has taken much of the wind out of Mr Obama's sails on his final overseas trip as American leader.

Mr Obama has offered frequent reassurances that the US will not renege on its international commitments. Yet he has been at a loss to quell concerns fully, given new signals from Mr Trump that he intends to govern in much the same way he campaigned.

Mr Obama's visit to Peru has brought those concerns to the forefront. Much of Latin America is on edge about a potentially dramatic shift in US immigration policy under Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Asian leaders gathered in Lima for the Asia-Pacific economic summit are trying to ascertain what a Trump presidency will mean for trade with the world's largest economy.

"We're going to have a busy agenda," Mr Obama said as he sat down with leaders of countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the sweeping free trade deal with Asia which he painstakingly brokered.

Vehemently opposed to the Pacific agreement and similar deals, Mr Trump has vowed it will not be ratified on his watch. In an acknowledgement of that political reality, the White House has stopped actively lobbying US congress to try to pass it.

In fact, Mr Obama did not mention the trade deal at all as reporters were allowed in briefly for the beginning of his meeting with TPP nations, which include Mexico, Chile, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. Instead, Mr Obama called it a useful occasion to talk about creating jobs, opportunity and prosperity.

Before returning to Washington, Mr Obama will sit down on Sunday with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr Obama's chief antagonist on the world stage, was also in Lima, but the White House did not expect them to have any substantial interaction.

By this point, Mr Obama has come to terms with the fact that his remaining weeks in office will be overshadowed by the provocative businessman who soon moves into the home Mr Obama's family now occupies.

In Greece and Germany, the first two stops on his trip, Mr Obama was similarly trailed by questions about Donald Trump and whether he will really follow through with threats he levelled during the campaign, such as potentially refusing to defend Nato allies who do not pay enough of the alliance's costs.

Mr Obama's message to young leaders at a town hall-style meeting in Lima was sanguine: "Don't assume the worst.

"I think it will be important for everybody around the world to not make immediate judgments, but give this new president-elect a chance to put their team together, to examine the issues, to determine what their policies will be.

"How you campaign is not always how you govern."


Press Association

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