BRUSSELS: Top European officials hit back at US President-elect Donald Trump on Monday after he branded the NATO alliance “obsolete” and lashed out at a key nuclear deal with Iran.
In a hard-hitting interview with two major European newspapers, Trump unleashed a volley of verbal attacks on Europe, dubbing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy “catastrophic” and hailing Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
But the EU’s foreign policy supremo led the European response, insisting the bloc would stand by the nuclear accord, described by Trump as “one of the dumbest deals I have ever seen”.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Federica Mogherini said the deal was “proof that diplomacy works and delivers”.
“The European Union will continue to work for the respect and implementation of this extremely important deal, most of all for our security,” she said.
Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson also defended the deal, saying it had “great merit” and “we want to keep it going”.
‘Bedrock’ of European security
Germany’s top diplomat Frank-Walter Steinmeier acknowledged NATO “concern” over Trump’s remarks about the US-led alliance.
“This is in contradiction with what the American defence minister said in his hearing in Washington only some days ago and we have to see what will be the consequences for American policy,” Steinmeier told reporters.
In comments set to cause further consternation among eastern European NATO countries nervous about Moscow following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in Ukraine, Trump slammed NATO as “obsolete”.
“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems,” Trump told The Times of London and Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling daily, just days ahead of his inauguration Friday.
“Number one, it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago,” he said.
“Number two, the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay.”
On the campaign trail, Trump said he would think twice about helping NATO allies if the United States were not “reasonably reimbursed” for the costs of defending them.
After Trump’s victory, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had been a bedrock of transatlantic security for “almost 70 years” and was especially needed at a time of new challenges.
Spending has been a common source of friction within the 28-nation alliance over recent years.
The core military contributor to the alliance is the United States, which accounts for about 70 percent of spending.
In 2014, stung into action by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, NATO leaders agreed to reverse years of cuts and spend the equivalent of two percent of economic output on defence.
“The countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries,” Trump said in Sunday’s interview.
“There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”
Trump also extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by a string of sanctions under his predecessor Barack
Obama over Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election.
“Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in remarks carried by The Times.
The US president-elect suggested a deal in which nuclear arsenals would be reduced and sanctions against Moscow would be eased, but gave no details.
“Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said Trump, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In other remarks, Trump said Brexit “is going to end up as a great thing” and said he backed a trade deal with post-EU Britain, which would be “good for both sides”.
“We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly,” said Trump, confirming he will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May soon after his inauguration.
The pound took a hit Monday in early Asian trade after Britain said it might undercut the EU economically if it cannot obtain both single market access and immigration controls, with British media warning of a so-called “hard Brexit”.
“Other countries will leave” the European Union in future, Trump predicted, largely due to the pressure the bloc was put under following a surge in arrivals of migrants and refugees fleeing war, persecution and poverty.
Trump also criticised Merkel for letting Germany admit undocumented migrants into the country, insinuating that this posed a security risk.
“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. And nobody even knows where they come from,” Trump said, adding he had “great respect” for the chancellor.
Critics attacked Merkel after her open-door policy aimed at desperate Syrian refugees brought 890,000 asylum seekers to Europe’s biggest economy in 2015, contributing to the rise of an anti-migrant movement.