Germany pushes back after Trump calls Nato 'obsolete'
Germany sought to calm European anxieties over Donald Trump's presidency yesterday after he dismissed Nato as "obsolete" and said he believed the EU would break up.
"I believe we Europeans have our fate in our own hands," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.
"I'm personally going to wait until the American president takes office, and then we will naturally work with him on all levels and see what kind of agreements we can reach."
Mrs Merkel spoke out after comments by Mr Trump in a joint interview with the UK 'Times' and Germany's 'Bild' newspaper unnerved governments across the continent and caused panicked meetings in Brussels.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, spoke of "astonishment and anxiety" among European leaders at the president-elect's comments.
"I've spoken not only with EU foreign ministers but Nato foreign ministers as well and can report that the signals are that there's been no easing of tensions," Mr Steinmeier said.
Just days before his inauguration, Mr Trump praised Brexit as a "great thing" and said he believed other countries would follow Britain out of the EU.
Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, France's Jean-Marc Ayrault said the best response to Mr Trump's interview was a united Europe.
But it was Mr Trump's comment that Nato is "obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago" that caused most concern among European leaders, reigniting fears that the US could split the alliance under his leadership.
"Since World War II, the presence of US troops has been a prerequisite for rebuilding the continent, safeguarding peace and ensuring security," Dalia Grybauskaité, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said.
"We expect continuity from the new US administration.
"Mr Trump must maintain this leadership role, to ensure security, stability and peace."
Mr Trump's comments were in stark contrast to those of James Mattis, his newly-appointed defence secretary, at his senate confirmation hearing last week.
"If we did not have Nato today, we would have to create it," Gen Mattis said, and EU leaders were pinning their hopes on his view prevailing.
"We are working on the basis that Mr Trump will listen to Gen Mattis, Rex Tillerson (the incoming secretary of state) and foreign policy Republicans," a senior EU diplomat told Reuters.
Gen Mattis also accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of seeking to "break the North Atlantic alliance", and Russia was quick to support Mr Trump's latest comments.
"Nato is, indeed, a vestige of the past and we agree with that. We have long been speaking about our views on this organisation," Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said.
Mrs Merkel's office said she was working to set up a meeting with Mr Trump.
But the German chancellor's relations with the new American president appear to have started poorly after he accused her of a "very catastrophic mistake" in opening Germany's doors to asylum-seekers.
Mrs Merkel said Mr Trump was confusing taking in refugees fleeing war with being soft on terrorism.
"The majority of Syrians left their country because of the civil war, because of the fight against Assad or the oppression from Assad," she said.
John Kerry, the outgoing US secretary of state, came to Mrs Merkel's support, describing her refugee policy as "extremely courageous".
It was "inappropriate" for Mr Trump to interfere in the internal politics of another country by criticising the policy, Mr Kerry told CNN.
There was further evidence of future turbulence in US-German relations after Mr Trump threatened to impose a 35pc tax on German car-makers if they sought to import cars made elsewhere to the US.
"I would tell BMW that if you are building a factory in Mexico and plan to sell cars to the USA, without a 35pc tax, then you can forget that," Mr Trump said.