Washington- Obama called on President-elect Donald Trump in Wednesday’s speech to continue trying to persuade Russia to reduce its nuclear stockpiles.
He said in his last press conference at the White House as a president that he tried to negotiate further reducing nuclear arsenals with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he said Russia’s leader was reluctant.
He said that implementing sanctions on Russia following its incursions into Ukraine was a “good example of the vital role” America must play in advocating for and enforcing basic rights around the world.
Obama said sanctions imposed on Russia for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula should not be linked to discussions of reducing nuclear arsenals, saying instead that the sanctions should remain in place until Moscow reverses course on Ukraine.
Obama lamented what he called Russia’s “escalating anti-American rhetoric,” which he said started when Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012.
“The reason we imposed the sanctions, recall, was not because of nuclear weapons issues, it was because the independence and sovereignty of a country, Ukraine, had been encroached upon by force, by Russia,” Obama said.
“What I’ve said to the Russians is as soon as you stop doing that, the sanctions will be removed. And I think it would probably best serve, not only American interests, but also the interests of preserving international norms, if we don’t confuse why these sanctions have been imposed with a whole set of other issues,” he said.
“It’s important for the United States to stand up for the principle that big countries don’t go around and invade and bully smaller countries,” Obama added.
President Barack Obama also suggested that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem could have “explosive” results and said he was worried that the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were waning.
Trump has promised to re-locate the embassy to Jerusalem, breaking with longstanding U.S. policy.
Israel and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and such a change would draw international condemnation.
“When sudden unilateral moves are made that speak to some of the core issues and sensitivities of either side, that can be explosive,” Obama said.
He said his administration had warned the incoming Trump administration that big shifts in policy had consequences.
“That is part of what we’ve tried to indicate to the incoming team in our transition process, is pay attention to this because this is … volatile stuff,” he said in response to a question about a potential embassy move.
Obama has said repeatedly that Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is an impediment to creating two states, which the United States believes is the best solution to decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
He said his administration did not block a recent U.N. resolution on Israeli settlement activity because it felt a two-state solution was the only option for peace.
“The goal of the resolution was to simply say that the growth of the settlements is creating a reality on the ground that increasingly will make a two-state solution impossible,” Obama said.
“It was important for us to send a signal, a wakeup call that this moment may be passing.”
President Obama hinted that in his first year away from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. he will focus on writing, as well as spending time with family.
“Let’s make it clear: I’m not running for anything anytime soon,” he said when asked about his post-White House plans.
“It’s important for me to take some time to process this amazing experience we’ve gone through. To make sure my wife, with whom I will be sharing a 25th anniversary this year, is willing to re-up and put up with me a little bit longer.”
“I want to do some writing. I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much. I want to spend precious time with my girls,” he said. “Those are my priorities this year.”