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Obama to meet EU leaders amid concerns about Trump

President Barack Obama will hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders in Berlin on Friday, addressing a range of economic and security issues and their concerns about his successor Donald Trump.

Syria, international terrorism, climate change and the threats posed by Russia will feature high on the agenda at the meeting, the final engagement of Mr Obama’s farewell trip to Europe.

The leaders were also due to discuss Brexit, with British prime minister Theresa May expected to set out London’s latest thinking to her colleagues. French president François Hollande, and prime ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mariano Rajoy of Spain will also attend.

Mr Obama earlier addressed widespread concerns in the US and Europe about Mr Trump, including fears that the president-elect might reduce US engagement with the world. Speaking at a press conference with Ms Merkel on Thursday evening, he said he was “cautiously optimistic” because the “responsibilities of office” and the “extraordinary demands” placed on it by Americans and “people around the world” forced a president “to focus”.

Ms Merkel said she was approaching Mr Trump with “an open mind” and suggested that the atmosphere might change as the US was no longer in an election but in a post-election period. There was “an interest” in Europe and Germany “to co-operate well with the US … on the basis of shared values”.

Mr Obama also urged president-elect Donald Trump to “stand up to” Russia when it deviates from international “values and norms”, warning his successor against striking “convenient” deals with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Speaking in Germany at a press conference with chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Obama said he hoped Mr Trump would not simply take “a realpolitik approach” and “cut deals with Russia, even if it hurts people”.

His call came as he and Ms Merkel emphasised their support for liberal democracy, freedom and free trade and the importance of the transatlantic alliance. They were speaking during a three-day farewell visit by Mr Obama to Ms Merkel, which on Friday will include an informal summit with the government heads of the UK, France, Spain and Italy.

Mr Obama also warned of the dangers of spreading cyber warfare, after what he said were Russian attacks on the US during the presidential election campaign. He said he had called Mr Putin and made clear there was a difference between intelligence gathering and “going after” targets.

He called for more international efforts so that “we don’t have a cyber arms race”. Expressing concern about the vulnerability of infrastructure, he said: “We must be careful that this does not become a lawless low-level battlefield.”

Ms Merkel said that the planned TTIP transatlantic trade and investment agreement, opposed on both sides of the Atlantic, could not now be concluded but could return on to the agenda in future.

Ms Merkel declined to confirm reports she is planning soon to announce that she will stand for a fourth term as chancellor in next year’s parliamentary election.

The US president joked that while he did not normally “meddle” in other countries’ politics, if he were German he would vote for Ms Merkel. 

German media have described his good-humoured visit as “the long goodbye”. As well as their private discussions the two leaders had dinner a deux on Wednesday and attended a celebratory meal on Thursday evening attended by luminaries such as conductor Daniel Barenboim and German football star Jürgen Klinsmann, manager of the US national soccer team. 

Mr Obama pledged to revisit Germany, pointing out that in six visits he had never been to Munich’s Oktoberfest beer festival.

Via FT