BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has asked the U.S. government to clarify remarks by President Donald Trump’s new ambassador to Berlin after he told the right-wing media outlet Breitbart, he wanted to empower “other conservatives” in Europe.
The comments by the ambassador, Richard Grenell, an outspoken defender of Trump, drew criticism from politicians across the German political spectrum, warning him not to meddle in domestic politics.
“We have asked the U.S. side for clarification, and whether (the remarks) were made as reported,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The issue would be looked at again on Wednesday when Grenell is due to make his first official call at the ministry, the spokesman said.
The political appointee caused anger on his first day in Berlin with a tweet telling German companies to wind down their business from Iran after the U.S. withdrew from a non-proliferation deal with Iran.
In a further breach of protocol, Grenell also invited Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies, to an embassy lunch during his June 12 visit to Berlin, Spiegel magazine reported.
In an interview with Breitbart News at the weekend, Grenell attributed the groundswell of conservatives across Europe to the “failed policies of the left”, adding: “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.”
In the same interview, he described himself as a big fan of Kurz, the head of the conservative People’s Party and who shares power with the far-right Freedom Party in Vienna. An embassy spokesman said Kurz had requested the meeting.
Merkel declined to comment on Kurz’s planned visit to the U.S. embassy during his visit to Berlin. “Like many others, I have taken note of this,” she said in a cool remark at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said that he had also had a brief meeting with Grenell during his Berlin visit. “I was asked by the American ambassador to meet him at the airport,” he said. “I wouldn’t draw any great meaning into that.”
Rolf Muetzenich, deputy leader of the Social Democrats in parliament, said Grenell’s remarks should be raised quickly with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Clearly the U.S. ambassador sees himself as an extension of a right-wing conservative world movement,” he told Reuters. Muetzenich added that Grenell’s actions violated the 1961 Vienna Convention, under which diplomats do not interfere in the domestic affairs of a country.
Attempting to weaken European unity(Ines Pohl)
As with all populists, Trump and his team are most concerned with what churns up the biggest waves.
Grenell knows precisely what he is doing when he talks about chain migration and praises Austria's hardline conservative chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. He wants to encourage those in Europe who, like Trump, challenge the status quo. In this interview, he is speaking to right-wing nationalist governments on the continent, like those in Poland and Hungary, who are critical of Europe in its current form.
Grenell, like his boss, is exploiting fears to advance his agenda. He is putting pressure on the weaknesses of the European system to advance a new order — one that weakens European unity primarily to benefit the United States.
Neither screams nor resignation will help to counter this strategy. Trump will always win in a shouting contest. Germany and its European partners have no choice but to accept that they can't rely on him. On the contrary, they must accept that the US president is threatening a trade war, and is using one of his most influential diplomats in Europe to hasten continental divisions.
There can only be one answer to this new trans-Atlantic relationship: an agreement with a clear vision for the future of the EU. One in which not only the big, but also the smaller countries find their place. As difficult as it is to accept: the EU's former ally has become a danger to its internal unity. After this interview, there is no doubt about that.
Ines Pohl is DW's editor-in-chief