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Greece Welcomes Obama On Final Presidential Foreign Trip

Nov 15, 2016
Originally published on November 15, 2016 5:31 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Obama is in Greece, the start of what could be his last foreign trip as president. At a press conference this morning with the Greek prime minister, Obama was asked about Britain's Brexit vote and also about the election of Donald Trump, asked to summarize what the message is voters are sending.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES BARACK OBAMA: We have to deal with issues like inequality. We have to deal with issues of economic dislocation. We have to deal with people's fears that their children won't do as well as they have. The more aggressively and effectively we deal with those issues the less those fears may channel themselves into counterproductive approaches.

GREENE: President Obama this morning in Athens, Greece. He's also going to Germany and Peru on this trip. But Athens is first, and reporter Joanna Kakissis is there. Joanna, good morning.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So it sounds like as we expected. I mean, Donald Trump's election is the backdrop for this trip.

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. And, you know, President Obama was very diplomatic in his answer. He said that he recognized that there was still a lot of anger out there, the sense of being left behind in the economy, of losing identity. And he had said that, you know, time will tell whether these prescriptions that are now offered, whether it's Brexit or the election of Donald Trump, whether that's going to satisfy the people who are fearful or angry or concerned about what's happening in the world. And it's a message that's also being heard in Europe where some of these same questions are being asked.

GREENE: Well, Joanna, I mean, Greece is a country that knows economic troubles maybe more than anywhere else in Europe.

KAKISSIS: (Laughter) Yes.

GREENE: I mean, do they - do Greeks feel a connection to these movements? Do they understand why a lot of Americans see Donald Trump as a champion?

KAKISSIS: You know, a lot of Greeks see Donald Trump as a big question mark. They don't know really what he stands for other than sort of populism. But they do feel the pain of a lot of - of being left behind in an economy that's changing. In the - in the case here, it's with the eurozone and whether the eurozone has been fair to Greece. And populists have also won in Europe and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also came from a populist background, although he's from the left. So they do understand. They understand sort of why it's happening. But as far as Donald Trump goes, they don't know what to expect from him. They still don't understand what his agenda is going to be.

GREENE: A big question mark that there's a lot of people in the world who are just waiting to see what a presidency will look like.

KAKISSIS: Yeah.

GREENE: Why did - why did President Obama choose Greece as the first stop, Joanna?

KAKISSIS: Well, he had planned this trip before Donald Trump was elected. President Obama had always wanted to come here, you know, and to the delight of Greeks in the room, even spoke some Greek. He said (speaking Greek) which means good afternoon. And he knows...

GREENE: He spoke some Greek. That's impressive.

KAKISSIS: Yes, he was - it was impressive. And Obama said he wanted to give Greece support at a crucial time. You know, Greece is lobbying the European Union for reduction of its massive debt right now as it manages - and it's also managing tens of thousands of refugees.

GREENE: And what are - what's next on his schedule after this press conference?

KAKISSIS: Well, he heads to - he heads to Germany, and there he'll meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be deciding - along with her finance minister - whether Greece would get debt relief. So Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is hoping President Obama can influence that.

GREENE: OK, that is reporter Joanna Kakissis in Athens covering stop number one on President Obama's foreign trip. This might be his last foreign trip as president. Joanna, thanks a lot.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.