- REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has hit back at President-elect Donald Trump’s recent criticism of her refugee policy and description of NATO as “obsolete,” saying in a statement on Monday that Europe’s destiny was “in our own hands.”
“We Europeans have our destiny in our own hands,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
“I will continue to work to ensure that the 27 member states work together effectively and, above all, in a forward-looking way,” she said, adding that Trump’s positions had “been known for a while.”
“My positions are also known,” she said.
In an interview published Sunday with the Times of London and Bild newspapers, Trump questioned the value of NATO when he was asked whether he understood why many in eastern Europe feared Russian aggression.
“I said a long time ago – that NATO had problems,” Trump told The Times and Bild. “Number one it was obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago. Number two – the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror.”
Trump then said that “NATO is very important to me.”
The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Monday that “Moscow shares Trump’s opinion that NATO is a remnant of the past,” according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
NATO has 28 member countries and serves, among other things, as a counterweight to Russia’s ambitions in Eastern Europe. Several post-Soviet states, including Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, are NATO members.
- Evan Vucci/AP Photo
US-Russia relations are now at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, largely because of major Russian interventions inCrimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014 and in Syria in 2015.
Putin has repeatedly characterized the US-led organization as an “aggressive” force whose aim is to isolate Russia from Europe – rhetoric that’s grown more heated amid NATO’s military exercises in the Baltic Sea. Russia has responded to those drills by transferring nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania.
Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that he and NATO’s secretary-general were alarmed by Trump’s comments on NATO.
“I’ve just had a conversation with the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, who has expressed concern at the comments made by Donald Trump that NATO is obsolete,” Steinmeier told reporters in Brussels.
Trump also slammed what he described as Merkel’s “utterly catastrophic mistake” to allow “all these illegals into the country” and suggested that he trusted Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin equally.
“I start off trusting both (Putin and Merkel) – but let’s see how long that lasts,” Trump said. “It may not last long at all.”
Merkel, whose refugee policies allowed more than 1 million asylum-seekers to settle in Germany in 2015 alone, said in early December that she would not cap the number of refugees allowed into Germany in the new year. Millions have been displaced by the civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
US Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Trump’s comments about Merkel’s refugee policy as “inappropriate.”
“I thought frankly it was inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner, and he will have to speak to that,” Kerry told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“As of Friday, he is responsible for that relationship [with Merkel],” Kerry said.
‘Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia’
Trump also suggested that he would consider lifting some sanctions on Russia if Putin cut the size of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump was quoted as saying.
“For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.”
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Monday that no talks were underway with the US to reduce Russia’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, adding that “Russia doesn’t intend to raise the issue of these sanctions in its foreign contacts.”
The US and Russia are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers. The US has 1,367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, while Russia has 1,796 such deployed warheads, according to the latest published assessment by the US State Department.
Reuters contributed reporting.