LONDON — President Barack Obama will meet with Western European leaders today and Monday amid a growing sense in his administration that Europe is faltering in the face of multiple challenges, undercutting the trans-Atlantic alliance at a critical time.
Even as Obama has tried to focus U.S. foreign policy more on Asia and China's rising power, administration aides say they have watched with concern as European unity has come under increased strain at a time of increased Russian aggression, slow economic growth, a virulent terrorism threat, and a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East and beyond.
In meeting in Germany today with Chancellor Angela Merkel and on Monday with Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, President François Hollande of France and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy, Obama intends to press his European counterparts on a number of issues, aides said.
He is scheduled to give a speech today in Germany taking stock of Europe's challenges.
"This speech allows him to step back at a time when the United States and Europe, together, are dealing with a range of challenges, from (ISIS) and the threat of terrorism, to the current refugee crisis," said Benjamin Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser.
In an interview published in the German newspaper Bild Zeitung ahead of his trip to Europe, Obama said it was "not my place to tell Europe how to manage Europe." But he said it benefited the United States to have a "strong, united, democratic Europe." And he said the "serious challenges" facing Europe must be confronted boldly.
There are also tensions between Eastern and Western members of the European Union, as well as NATO, over how to manage a more assertive Russia, which has torn up the post-Cold War order in Ukraine and is trying to undermine confidence in NATO's principle of collective defense.
Obama has advice for young activists
At a town hall-style event with young people in London on Saturday, Obama offered an indirect critique of the Black Lives Matter movement, encouraging activists to engage with the political process and cautioning them that social change can be a slow and incremental process.
The president took questions on a variety of topics, including Northern Ireland, transgender rights and racial profiling.
In talking about Black Lives Matter, he praised the movement as "really effective in bringing attention to problems," but said young activists should be more willing to work with political leaders to craft solutions instead of criticizing from outside the political process.