WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday lashed out at Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, saying the leader of the U.S. ally had made “nasty” comments about his interest in having the United States purchase Greenland.
Trump announced Tuesday night that he was calling off a planned two-day state visit to Copenhagen early next month over Frederiksen’s refusal to entertain the sale of Greenland, a self-governing country that is part of the kingdom of Denmark.
Frederiksen told reporters Wednesday she was surprised by Trump’s change in plans and also lamented the missed opportunity to celebrate the historical alliance between Denmark and the United States, saying preparations for the visit had been “well underway.”
Frederiksen called the idea of the sale of Greenland “absurd” over the weekend after news broke of Trump’s interest – a characterization that apparently offended him.
“I thought it was not a nice statement, the way she blew me off,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “She shouldn’t treat the United States that way. . . . She said ‘absurd.’ That’s not the right word to use.”
Trump’s comment came during a rambling, 35-minute back-and-forth with reporters outside the White House, where he reversed his position on some issues facing his administration while also reiterating comments that have already sparked several rounds of controversy this week.
The president defended his trade war with China despite worries that his tariffs have become a drag on the economy while chastising his predecessors for not taking a tougher line with Beijing.
“Somebody had to do it,” he said before looking skyward and proclaiming: “I am the chosen one.”
He said he still wants to end birthright citizenship through an executive order – an idea that was dismissed by most legal experts as unconstitutional when he floated it late last year – while also disputing reports that he is backing away from a plan to expand background checks following recent mass shootings.
Trump denied he is considering a payroll tax cut to head off a recession, arguing that there is no need to do so even after he confirmed it was under consideration the previous day.
He intensified his criticism of Jewish voters who support Democrats, calling them “very disloyal to Israel.”
And Trump continued to serve as the loudest cheerleader for his own record, while dismissing any criticism of his actions or rhetoric.
“I was put here by people to do a great job, and that’s what I’m doing,” he said. “And nobody’s done a job like I’ve done.”
His recent comments on Denmark and Greenland, including his decision to ratchet up tensions Wednesday, have confounded allies and critics, who have called his rhetoric an unnecessary provocation with a trusted NATO ally.
“It doesn’t take a member of the Intelligence Committee to know that canceling meetings with our foreign allies over the momentary whims of the President is absurd,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., wrote on Twitter. “We can’t keep making foreign policy decisions based on this President’s fantasy world.”
The announcement of Trump’s change of plans Tuesday night came two days after he told reporters that owning Greenland “would be nice” for the United States strategically even though the island’s status was initially not publicly cited as a scheduled topic for his planned visit to Denmark.
Trump’s public comments Wednesday also struck a different tone than on Tuesday night, when he said in a tweet that Denmark is “a very special country with incredible people,” and he thanked Frederiksen for “being so direct.”
There were signs of damage control Wednesday as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. In a tweet, Kofod said the two had a “frank, friendly and constructive” talk affirming the strong bond between both countries.
The U.S. and Denmark “are close friends and allies” with a “long history of active engagement across globe,” he said, adding that the two “agreed to stay in touch on [a] full range of issues of mutual interest.”
Trump continued to lash out. In his remarks to reporters, the president noted that others had also floated the idea of a U.S. purchase of Greenland, including former president Harry Truman.
Later, after departing on a trip to Kentucky, Trump took a shot at Denmark, writing on Twitter that despite being “a wealthy country,” it was falling short of a NATO goal for defense spending.
A Trump adviser said the president was annoyed at planned back-to-back trips to Europe in the coming days and the extensive flying involved and that the comments by Frederiksen gave him a reason to cancel the Denmark leg. Trump is scheduled to leave later this week for a Group of Seven summit in France.
“He is not looking forward to any of it,” said the adviser, who spoke to Trump this week and requested anonymity to share a private conversation.
It remained unclear whether Trump will still go to Poland, as he had been scheduled to do for two days ahead of his trip to Copenhagen in early September.
U.S. Arctic experts said there is strategic value in Greenland, but they questioned how the Trump administration is handling U.S. interests there.
Jim Townsend, who handled Arctic and Europe issues in the Pentagon under the Obama administration, said proposing to buy Greenland from Denmark at this point is “foolish and stupid.” But it is probably prompted in part by a growing realization across the U.S. government that more attention needs to be paid to the Arctic, in light of both climate change and Russia and China’s interest in the region, he said.
U.S. officials involved in Greenland issues have long discussed the island in national security terms, and the Air Force’s use of Thule Air Base on the northwestern coast already gives Washington a foothold there, said Townsend, now an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security. Melting sea ice raises the prospect that Greenland could be more centrally involved in transiting waterways to the north, he added.
“I am certain that they want to expand Thule,” Townsend predicted of the Pentagon’s long-term plans. “For sure for a while now, there has been interest in the Pentagon on what can we do to make sure we have our own presence and footprint up there. Thule is not a combatant base. It doesn’t have aircraft. It could have aircraft, if they’re able to operate in an inhospitable climate up there. So they’re probably looking at that.”
Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow involved in the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, said that it is possible that Trump’s statements about Greenland are a calculated, but uncareful play to keep China and others out of a region that is important to European and North American security.
“However,” she added, “he did not have to create a diplomatic row with our close ally Denmark to send such a signal.”
Speaking at a news conference in Copenhagen before Trump’s appearance in Washington, Frederiksen said Trump’s decision to cancel his trip would not “change the character of our good relations,” adding that an invitation “for stronger cooperation on Arctic affairs still stands.”
On Wednesday evening, hours after Trump’s remarks, the Danish prime minister told public broadcaster DR: “I think we have answered very nicely from the Danish side.”
She was “not going to go into a war of words” with Trump, Frederiksen added in an interview with the TV2 network.
Her measured remarks stood in contrast with Danish lawmakers from across the political spectrum and former government ministers, who slammed Trump’s behavior as juvenile, undiplomatic and insulting.
“It’s an insult from a close friend and ally,” Michael Aastrup Jensen, a member of the Danish Parliament with the influential center-right Venstre party, told The Washington Post. He said Trump’s interest in purchasing Greenland took the country by surprise and was initially widely considered to be a joke, before Danes realized the full extent of “this disaster.”
Jensen said Danish lawmakers felt misled and “appalled” by the president, who “lacks even basic diplomatic skills,” he said. “There was no word [ahead of time] about: ‘I want to buy Greenland, and that’s why I’m coming.’ ”
Other lawmakers cited by Danish media outlets questioned whether the president was still welcome in the country.
Trump’s behavior reminded him of “a spoiled child,” Soren Espersen, foreign affairs spokesman for the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party, told Danish newspaper Politiken.
Martin Lidegaard, the chairman of the Danish Parliament’s foreign policy committee and former foreign minister said in an interview that he hoped Danes would not take this “quite absurd” episode too seriously.
“Understandably, a lot of people are angry,” he said, “but we should not let Trump impact Danish-U. S. relations” in a negative way.
“We’ve been close U.S. allies for decades,” he said.
Danes have long considered themselves to have a particularly close relationship with the United States. Denmark actively supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq beginning in 2003, even as France and Germany refused to do so. Denmark has also closely collaborated with the United States in the Arctic, which has been a growing focus of the Obama and now of the Trump administration.
Apart from eliciting anger, Trump has had at least one other effect in Denmark in recent days. His moves, said center-right lawmaker Jensen, had “strengthened support for Greenland.”
On Wednesday, Frederiksen joined a growing list of public figures – mostly women – whose words and deeds Trump has described as “nasty” since entering politics.
Others include the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and British royal family member Meghan Markle.
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The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe and Josh Dawsey in Washington and Jennifer Hassan in London contributed to this report.