President Barack Obama is set to address European fears over the possible consequences of Britain's decision to leave the European Union and increasing worries about Russia during a five-day trip to Europe, likely the last of his presidency.
On Thursday, Obama is scheduled to fly to NATO's annual meeting, held this year in Warsaw, Poland, before traveling to Spain later this week. He is expected to tell European leaders that the United States will retain a strong relationship with their countries, and emphasize the importance of continental and international cooperation in the wake of Brexit.
"This is obviously not the outcome that either of our governments wanted but it’s democracy and so we’re moving on," a US state department official told The Guardian after the UK voted to leave the EU:
We have to. It’s just too important not to. The relationship’s too important, the issues that we're working with the UK on are too vital.
You name it: Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, the Asia-Pacific region. The Brits are such a key partner on so many issues that it’s just too important to allow this to derail a lot of that cooperation.
During his visit, Obama plans on meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss how he thinks negotiations with Britain should go forward. He is also expected to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has announced he will resign from leadership after leading the failed "remain" campaign that opposed leaving the EU.
Britain has often been an advocate for US interests in the EU, as Kristen Silverberg, who served as US ambassador to the EU under President George W. Bush, told The Christian Science Monitor in June.
Britain helped successfully push the United States' position on sanctions for Iran over its nuclear program, and sanctions for Russia for its invasion of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, Silverberg said.
"What we need on the inside is a determined ally and advocate, and that's frequently been the UK," she said.
In Europe, many leaders have worried not only about the impact of Brexit, but about presumed GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's more isolationist "America First" tone on foreign policy, as well.
Obama will speak on America's "continued, very strong support for the European project which has been at the center of so much security and prosperity" world-wide, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, told the Associated Press.
According to the White House, the president is planning to stress that Britain's decision to leave the European Union will make it even more important for NATO, the 28-member military alliance, to cooperate with the European Union.
NATO's relationship with Russia is expected to be a second major focus of the visit. The alliance recently committed to sending a total of around 4,000 soldiers to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to increase its presence near Russia, which "will send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any ally," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Associated Press.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko about disputes regarding the 2015 Minisk peace deal, which aimed to help settle the situation between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine has claimed Russia has not fulfilled its side of the deal and is not withdrawing its troops, which Russia contends.
The visit is also expected to address the increasing threat of the Islamic State, the continued war in Afghanistan, and the Syrian refugee crisis.
This report contains information from the Associated Press.