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Obama, Merkel issue joint rebuttal to the coming era of Donald Trump

BERLIN — President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel together delivered a rebuttal to the coming era of Donald Trump, issuing a joint plea for more transatlantic cooperation on everything from security to climate change to the defense of a kinder, more inclusive world.

On his last overseas trip as president, Obama is currently meeting with Merkel, a centrist leader who observers see as the heir apparent to his legacy as the leading global advocate of liberal democracy. Ahead of a joint appearance later Thursday, the two penned an op-ed piece recognizing the painful side of freer trade along with a sober reality check.

"The future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalization economy," they wrote.

The two leaders never mention Trump by name. But their statements appeared to serve as a point-by-point refutation of some of the president-elect's most contentious foreign policy pledges.

They defended aid for refugees "because we know it is our treatment of those most vulnerable that determines the true strength of our values." They hailed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - which Trump has threatened to pull back from - as a cornerstone of peace. They presented the German-U.S. relationship as a symbol of shared progressive Western values.

"Our countries share a joint responsibility to protect and preserve our way of life," the two leaders wrote in the German weekly Wirtschaftwoche. "It is in this spirit that we are working hard to ensure that international law and norms are respected around the globe - which remains a prerequisite for stability and prosperity."

They strongly argued in favor of pursuing a free trade deal between the United States and the European Union despite Trump's vows to upend it after years of talks. They also heralded the Paris Agreement to cut global emissions - from which Trump has threatened to withdraw - as a deal that "gives the world a framework for the common protection of our planet."

Despite earlier reservations, several global leaders appear to be rushing to congratulate Donald Trump - signaling either a pragmatic willingness to cooperate with the president-elect or a desire to size him up. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for instance, is rushing to New York for an early meeting with Trump.

But Merkel, considered the E.U.'s most influential leader, is taking a significantly cooler approach, continuing to align herself with Obama even as he exits the global stage. She has treated Trump with caution so far. Following his surprise victory, Merkel issued a carefully worded congratulations signaling her desire to cooperate, but only on the basis of "democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views."

That is part because, for Obama, Merkel is something of a political soulmate. No other world leader so closely matches Obama's ideology of tireless diplomacy with an emphasis on human rights, tolerance and equality.

Sharing similar temperaments, Merkel and Obama forged a friendship that helped broker several major agreements - including the deal on Iran's nuclear program and sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Although she hails from what in liberal Germany is considered to be the center-right, Merkel is seen as emerging after Obama a leading global voice for progressive values, including equality, renewable energies and tempered diplomacy in the face of conflict.

Importantly, Merkel has not yet said if she will seek re-election in national elections next year - but the RND newspaper network reported on Thursday that she would announce her decision on Sunday, citing unnamed party sources. Some of her close allies have suggested she will run.

Obama's last overseas trip started in Greece, where he delivered a major speech on Wednesday warning against "crude nationalism." He arrived later in Berlin for an informal dinner with Merkel, with formal talks and a press conference with the chancellor scheduled for Thursday. On Friday, he meets again with Merkel along with the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and Spain before continuing on to Peru.

It is perhaps fitting that Obama bids farewell to Europe in Germany, the nation where his massive outdoor rally as a candidate more than eight years ago turned him into a global phenomenon. Although he has had ups and downs with the public here, Germans appeared to turn nostalgic during his last trip.

"Looking back it now slowly sinks in, that we fared very well with Obama," the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper said in an editorial Thursday.

"Yes, he got the Nobel Peace Prize far too early. He didn't shut Guantanamo. He couldn't pacify Syria. But still this president had an important impact on the relationship with Europe ... he actually practiced the 'common leadership' that his predecessors only spoke about in abstract terms."