Donald Trump is no stranger to provocative comments and this time he’s weighing in on the other side of the Atlantic. In an interview with Rupert Murdoch-owned Brit paper The Sunday Times with former Conservative leadership contender Michael Gove (one of the key figures leading the Brexit campaign last year), Trump indicated there would be a major shift into how he’ll handle foreign relations going forward.
The President-elect, who will be sworn into office Friday, praised the UK’s decision to leave the European Union as a “smart” move and believes the EU is on the brink of collapse whilst also criticizing Germany chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies.
In the interview — Trump’s first with a Euro paper — he praised Brexit and said he believed more European countries would soon follow suit. “I sort of, as you know, predicted it,” he told Gove. “I was in Turnberry [his Scottish golf course] and was doing a ribbon cutting because I bought Turnberry, which is doing unbelievably, and I’ll tell you, the fact that your pound sterling has gone down? Great. Because business is unbelievable in a lot of parts of the UK, as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing.”
Trump added that he intended to move “very quickly” on sealing a new trade agreement between the U.S. and the UK. “I’m a big fan of the UK,” he said. “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly,” adding that he was keen to meet UK Prime Minister Theresa May shortly after his inauguration.
“I will be meeting with [May]. In fact if you want you can see the letter, where the letter is, she just sent it. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and…we’re going to get something done very quickly.”
Trump blamed immigration as being the “straw that broke the camel’s back” when a Brexit vote was decided in June last year. “I believe others [countries] will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think.”
The incoming President didn’t shy away from criticizing Merkel and said that she made a “catastrophic mistake” by welcoming Syrian refugees into the EU. “And nobody even knows where they come from,” he said.
Trump slammed Germany’s position in the EU, deeming the member-state as merely “a vehicle for Germany.” He added: “That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.”
He continued to take another hostile swipe at post-war pillar NATO, and said that while he was committed to the defence of Europe and the West, he was concerned that NATO had become “obsolete,” and has failed to keep up with the times.
“Countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect these countries,” he told the Sunday Times. “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.”
Trump also revealed that he looks set to be a tough negotiating partner, and threatened to place a 35% import tax on BMW cars unless the German company halted its plans to open up a new factory in Mexico.
As for Russia, the President-elect indicated that he would consider reviewing U.S. sanctions on the country if President Vladimir Putin was prepared to move away from confrontation. “They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” he said. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially.”
But despite his desire to improve U.S.-Russian relations, Trump bluntly criticized President Barack Obama for failing to take action on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and allowing Russia to control the course of Syria’s civil war.
He also revealed that he was “not happy” with Obama’s deal with Iran on nuclear weapons and while refusing to reveal details of what his policy on Iran may be, did describe the current deal as “one of the worst deals ever made.”
After a series of provocative foreign policy comments, Trump said he had no plans to quit social media and would continue post on Twitter throughout his presidency as he felt the media covers him “so dishonestly.”
Germany has already hit out at Trump’s comments and expressed concern on his stance on NATO and the EU. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his remarks had caused “confusion and anxiety” in both NATO and the EU.
“This contradicts what the American defence secretary said in his hearing in Washington only a few days ago and we have to see what it means for American policy,” said Steinmeier.
Merkel’s spokesman said that she had “read the interview with interest.”
UK’s Downing Street welcomed Trump’s pledge to seek a quick U.S.-UK trade deal but played down any notion that it might be put in place before its departure from the EU is finalized.
Since the publication of the interview, Gove has been largely criticized for asking soft questions. A columnist at left-wing paper The Guardian said Gove is “simply Trump’s cheerleader, glossing over inconsistencies and ignorance.”