ABC News(NEW YORK) — European leaders reacted Monday to a wide-ranging interview with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that touched on a variety of European issues from NATO to Brexit.
In the interview with German newspaper Bild and The Times of London, Trump again called NATO “obsolete,” said he’d make a trade deal with Britain “very quickly,” and predicted other nations would leave the European Union after Britain’s historic Brexit vote last June.
Here’s how European leaders are reacting to Trump’s latest comments:
Trump repeated a statement he made during the campaign that NATO is “obsolete,” raising doubts about whether the U.S., under his leadership, would jump to the defense of its NATO allies in Europe if Russia attacked them.
“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one, it was obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two, the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay,” Trump told the Times. “I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.”
“And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries,” Trump added. “But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States.”
NATO’s collective defense agreement requires all member countries to come to the aid of any member state that is attacked.
At the same time, Trump said that NATO is still “very important” to him.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking to reporters ahead of a European Union foreign ministers meeting, said Trump’s view on NATO has “caused astonishment” and is contradictory to what his pick for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, told senators during his confirmation hearing last week.
“This is in contradiction with what [Mattis] said in his hearing in Washington only some days ago and we have to see what will be the consequences for American policy,” Steinmeier said.
On Thursday, Mattis called NATO “the most successful military alliance probably in modern history, maybe ever.”
But Moscow echoed Trump’s sentiment that NATO was “obsolete.”
“NATO is truly a remnant, and we agree with this,” Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday. “We have long been expressing our opinion on the organization, whose systemic objective is confrontation.”
When asked if Trump supported sanctions by European countries against Russia, Trump responded that it could be possible to “make some good deals with Russia” in the future if its nuclear arsenals were reduced.
“Well, I think that people need to get along and do what they need to do to be fair. OK? They have sanctions against Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump told Bild, with almost identical comments to the Times. “On the one hand, I find that there should be significantly fewer nuclear weapons and they would have to be significantly reduced, that is one of them. But there are these sanctions, and Russia is currently suffering from it. But I think there could be many things that would benefit a lot of people.”
In Moscow, Peskov urged caution, instead saying that the Kremlin would “have patience and wait for Mr. Trump to take office as president of the U.S. before evaluating specific initiatives.”
At the same time, Trump was critical of Russia’s intervention in Syria, calling it a “very bad thing.”
“It’s a very bad thing, [the U.S.] had a chance to do something when we had the line in the sand and nothing happened. That was the only time. And now, it’s sort of very late. It’s too late. … But Aleppo was nasty. I mean when you see them shooting old ladies walking out of town — they can’t even walk and they’re shooting ’em — it almost looks like they’re shooting ’em for sport — ah no, that’s … a terrible situation,” Trump told the Times.
“Aleppo is in such a terrible humanitarian situation,” he also told Bild.
In the past, Trump has faced bipartisan criticism for his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil who has close business ties to Russia and was given the Order of Friendship from Putin in 2014.
In the wake of Britain voting to leave the European Union, Trump said he would do a “fair” trade deal with the country within weeks of taking office.
“We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” Trump said. “I will be meeting with [U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May]. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it’ll be, I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”
The Times of London wrote that a potential trade deal “would open further a huge market for British goods and services.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who helped lead the movement for Britain to leave the E.U., called Trump’s proposal “very good news.”
Overall, Trump said Brexit would “end up being a great thing” and predicted other E.U. countries would leave.
“People, countries, want their own identity and the U.K. wanted its own identity,” he told the Times. “But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. … I believe others will leave.”
Trump called the E.U. “a vehicle for Germany” and said it was “smart” for the U.K. to leave. He also criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept Syrian refugees escaping years of a civil war that has left half a million people dead.
“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from,” he told the Times. “And nobody even knows where they come from. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake.”
Merkel responded Monday at a news conference, saying about the E.U., “I think we Europeans have our fate in our own hands.”
But she did not weigh in on his criticism of her migrant policy.
“I am personally waiting for the inauguration of the U.S. president. Then of course we will work with him on all levels,” Merkel responded.
Trump promised that within his first days in office he would issue a “decree” that would “turn around safeguarding [U.S.] borders.”
“We do not want people from Syria to come to us, of whom we do not know who they are. There is no way for us to check these people. I do not want to do it like Germany,” Trump told Bild. “I have great respect for Merkel, I must say. I have great respect for her. But I find it was very unhappy what happened.”
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