President Barack Obama said Monday he was taking a message to Europe that President-elect Donald Trump was committed to keeping the NATO alliance strong despite campaign rhetoric about some members not paying their fair share for defense.
The commander-in-chief, however, was less sure that Trump wouldn't seek to unravel the international agreement to rein in Iran's nuclear programs and Obama essentially acknowledged that he won't fulfill one of his own campaign promises to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
Obama spoke at a White House news conference prior to departure on what was announced as his last foreign trip as president that will take him to Greece, Germany and Peru.
The president said that in his White House meeting with Trump last week on the transition he found Trump in agreement on maintaining U.S. core commitments across the globe, including a commitment to NATO. One of his reasons for going to Europe was to "let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America's commitment to a strong and robust NATO," Obama said.
During the campaign, Trump frequently questioned the value of NATO and suggested that the U.S. shouldn't be obligated to come to the defense of its NATO allies if they "aren't paying their bills." NATO members, particularly in the Baltic states, have also been concerned about Trump's favorable comments on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Iran, Obama said the nuclear deal was "a good example of the gap, I think, between the rhetoric in this town -- not unique to the president-elect -- but to reality." There was major debate before the agreement was enacted, he said, "and at the time the main argument was that Iran wouldn't abide by the deal. They would cheat."
In more than a year since the deal went into effect, the evidence was clear that "they have abided by the agreement," Obama said of the Iranians. He said Israeli military and intelligence officials also agreed that Iran has kept its part of the deal.
Obama said he regretted that he hasn't been able to shut down Guantanamo. "It is true that I have not been able to close the darn thing," but "it's also true that we have greatly reduced the population."
At its peak, the detention facility housed more than 700 prisoners and 60 now remain. Obama said additional transfers of detainees to other countries may take place in his final two months in office, but he acknowledged that "Gitmo" wouldn't be shut down and was likely to remain open in a Trump administration.
On closing the facility, Obama said, "Congress disagrees with me and I gather the president-elect does as well." During the campaign, Trump pledged to keep Guantanamo open and "we're going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're going to load it up."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.