Obama Tells EU to Fight for Unity in ‘Critical’ Brexit Time

Obama: Confident U.K., EU Will Work Together
  • U.S. president speaks in Warsaw ahead of NATO leaders summit
  • EU one of the greatest achievements of modern time, Obama says

President Barack Obama called on the U.K. and the European Union to find a way to work with each other after Britain’s vote to quit the bloc, as he urged EU leaders not to throw away the unity they’ve forged since the end of World War II.

Obama, who had warned of the risks of a U.K.-EU split before the referendum, said that during this “critical time” for the EU it’s in the interests of both sides to cooperate as the U.K. negotiates to leave.

“I am absolutely confident the U.K. and European Union will work together in a pragmatic and cooperative fashion to ensure the U.K.’s transition is orderly and smooth,” Obama told reporters in Warsaw Friday before a summit of NATO leaders. “Nobody has an interest in protracted, adversarial negotiations.”

The U.K.’s decision to turn its back on its 43-year membership of the EU has raised questions about European stability at a time when eastern nations are on alert to an increasingly aggressive Russia, Islamic State is posing a terrorist threat from the south and the bloc faces the largest influx of migrants in 70 years.

For a QuickTake on tensions with Russia, click here

The two-day NATO meeting, billed as a landmark summit by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, will agree to deploy alliance troops in eastern Europe for the first time since the Cold War and look at stepping up its presence in the Mediterranean. The decisions on two fronts acknowledges that after unsettling eastern Europe with incursions into Ukraine in 2014, Russia has gone on to destabilize the alliance’s southeastern borders with its military campaign to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

The meeting takes place in the shadow of the U.K.’s decision to withdraw from the EU, an upset to the post-war European order that has riled global financial markets and fed populist and nationalist sentiment across Europe. Obama also made a statement condemning the killing of five law enforcement officers in Dallas, Texas.

Brexit ‘Hyperbole’

Speaking after talks with the EU’s twin presidents, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, Obama said that the U.K. vote to leave the EU has created uncertainty about the future of integration. But while some point to Brexit as evidence that “the entire edifice of European security and prosperity is crumbling,” this is “hyperbole” and misplaced, he said.

“An integrated Europe is one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, and this is an achievement that has to be preserved,” he said.

It’s the first time since the U.K.’s June 23 referendum that Obama has met the bloc’s leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among the leaders due to join for the full NATO summit later in the day. Cameron announced his resignation after his defeat in the referendum, and will leave office by September.

Seeking to show that a withdrawal from the EU doesn’t mean that the U.K. will reduce its commitment to NATO, Cameron will use the summit to commit to a deployment of a 500-strong battalion to Estonia, a company of 150 soldiers to Poland and a promise of 3,000 troops to lead a quick-reaction force next year, a government official told reporters in London.

“While Brexit creates some uncertainty, our shared prosperity will continue to rest on the rock-solid foundation of NATO,” Obama said in an op-ed published in the Financial Times Friday.

Among the topics to be discussed in Warsaw are fighting Islamic State, the supply of AWACS surveillance aircraft, expanding NATO’s presence in the Mediterranean after working to combat human traffickers in the Aegean, the continued presence in Afghanistan, so-called hybrid threats and cyber-security.

“Our critical infrastructure could be attacked, our banking system could be hacked, our citizens subject to disinformation” via social networks, said Tusk, announcing closer cooperation between the EU and NATO, both head-quartered in Brussels.

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