Calls grow in Germany to expel disputed US envoy

BERLIN: In this file photo then newly accredited US Ambassador to Germany Richard Allen Grenell stands in front of a military honor guard during an accreditation ceremony for new Ambassadors in Berlin.-AFP

BERLIN: Leading German politicians yesterday called for the new US ambassador to be expelled after the staunch ally of Donald Trump was accused of meddling in domestic politics and aggravating already tense ties. Richard Grenell took up his Berlin posting on May 8 and immediately irked Germany when he tweeted the same day that German companies should stop doing business with Iran as Trump quit the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

He stoked further outrage last weekend with reported comments to right-wing website Breitbart of his ambition to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders”. Grenell also raised eyebrows with his plan to host a lunch on June 13 for Austria’s arch-conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, described by the US envoy as a “rock star”. “What this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy,” Martin Schulz, former chief of the Social Democratic Party and an ex-European Parliament president, told national news agency DPA.

“If a German ambassador were to say in Washington that he is there to empower the Democrats, he would have been kicked out immediately. “I hope that Kurz’s visit will lead Mr Grenell’s tenure as ambassador in Germany to be short,” added Schulz, playing on the German word for short “kurz”. Schulz had earlier tweeted that the US envoy did not behave like a diplomat but like a “far-right colonial officer”.

Amid the row, Germany’s foreign ministry is seeking clarification from Grenell about his comments, with the topic to be raised at a pre-arranged meeting Wednesday between the envoy and senior official Andreas Michaelis. “There will certainly be a lot to discuss and that’s why it’s good that the ambassador will be a guest tomorrow of state secretary Michaelis,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Awful interview

But the opposition far-left Die Linke party’s chief Sahra Wagenknecht said Grenell had disqualified himself as ambassador. “Someone like US ambassador Richard Grenell, who thinks he can lord over Europe and determine who is governing here, can no longer stay in Germany as a diplomat,” Wagenknecht told Die Welt daily. “If the government takes the democratic sovereignty of our country seriously, then it shouldn’t just invite Grenell to a chat over coffee, but expel him immediately,” she added.

The appointment of Grenell, a hawkish supporter of Trump’s “America First” stance, was long held up by US senators who objected to his allegedly disparaging tweets on female politicians and apparent refusal to take seriously claims of Russian meddling in the US election. The storm comes as ties between Germany and the United States are strained after Trump ditched the Iran nuclear deal and imposed punishing tariffs on European aluminium and steel.

Underlining the souring transatlantic relationship, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe can no longer rely on the US to protect it and must “take its destiny into its own hands”. Politicians in the US too baulked at Grenell’s comments. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted that the envoy’s interview with Breitbart was “awful-ambassadors aren’t supposed to ’empower’ any political party overseas”.

Why is he ambassador

For Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman of Merkel’s centre-right bloc, Grenell is simply seeking to weaken the EU. The US wants to prevent “the European Union from further integrating and becoming a stronger political and economic power”, Hardt told broadcaster hr-Info. Although Merkel herself belongs to the conservative camp, commentators said Grenell was not trying to bolster the chancellor’s party base, but rather its opponents from the far-right.

“It is bad enough if that’s what he is thinking, let alone saying it,” said the daily Berliner Zeitung. Media outside Germany also weighed in, with Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum arguing that Grenell clearly intended to back “nativist, pro-Russia and anti-pluralist” forces in Europe. Grenell had certainly fulfilled his task if he was sent to Germany to destabilize Merkel’s coalition or the Atlantic alliance, she said, “but if those are not his orders… then a different set of questions has to be asked”.

“Why is the US ambassador in Germany giving an interview to Breitbart? Why is he involving himself in partisan politics? For that matter, why is he an American ambassador at all?” The Financial Times urged Berlin to respond to Grenell’s “undiplomatic behavior” by holding its line on adhering to the Iran nuclear deal, responding firmly to US tariffs as well as stepping up to its defense responsibilities.–AFP


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