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German FM says US ‘older and bigger’ than current conflict

Gabriel admits ‘difficult situation’ between two countries in Trump era, says it is ‘inappropriate to communicate over Twitter’

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivers a speech during the Protestant church day (Kirchentag) event at the City Cube in Berlin on May 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/dpa/Lino Mirgeler)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivers a speech during the Protestant church day (Kirchentag) event at the City Cube in Berlin on May 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/dpa/Lino Mirgeler)

Germany’s foreign minister said Tuesday that the US “is older and bigger than the current conflict,” amid escalating tensions between Washington and Berlin.

“It is true that we have a difficult situation in relations between the United States and Germany,” Reuters quoted Sigmar Gabriel as saying. “But the United States are older and bigger than the current conflict and so I think we will return to good relations in the future.”

“Things are getting trivialized now. I think it is inappropriate that we are now communicating with each other between a beer tent and Twitter,” he added, in reference to both the venue in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday called into question the reliability of the US and UK as allies and US President Donald Trump’s preferred medium for launching attacks on his perceived opponents.

Upping the war of words between the two countries, the leader of Gabriel’s Social Democratic Party Martin Schulz on Tuesday called Trump “the destroyer of all Western values” and said Germany must resist the US president’s calls for NATO allies to increase their defense spending.

SPD leader Martin Schulz delivers a press statement at the headquarters of the SPD in Berlin on May 30, 2017. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)
SPD leader Martin Schulz delivers a press statement at the headquarters of the SPD in Berlin on May 30, 2017. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

“One must stand in the way of such a man with his ideology of rearmament,” Reuters quoted Schulz as saying.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump lashed out at Germany, vowing on Twitter to continue pushing Berlin to increase spending on defense and to work reduce the US’s trade deficit with Europe’s largest economy.

“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change,” he said.

The sharp words from Merkel and Gabriel earlier this week came after Trump concluded his first official tour abroad which took him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brussels and then Italy for a G7 summit.

Germany’s exasperation was laid bare after the G7 summit which wrapped up on Saturday with the US refusing so far to sign up to upholding the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Days earlier, in Saudi Arabia, Trump had presided over the single largest US arms deal in American history, worth $110 billion over the next decade and including ships, tanks and anti-missile systems.

Gabriel said Monday that “anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk.”

“The short-sighted policies of the American government stand against the interests of the European Union,” he said, judging that “the West has become smaller, at least it has become weaker.”

“We Europeans must fight for more climate protection, fewer weapons and against religious (fanaticism), otherwise the Middle East and Africa will be further destabilized,” Gabriel said.

Germany’s harsh words for Washington, traditionally a close ally, were highly unusual and came as relations have grown increasingly frosty.

When Trump was inaugurated in January, Merkel had told the billionaire and former reality TV show star that cooperation would be on the basis of shared democratic values.

US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrive for a family photo during the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, on May 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Miguel Medina)
US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrive for a family photo during the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, on May 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Miguel Medina)

The relationship between Merkel and Trump contrasts with the warm ties between her and former US president Barack Obama — who last week travelled to Berlin to attend a key Protestant conference.

Obama’s participation in a forum with Merkel last Thursday came hours before her meeting with Trump in Brussels at the NATO summit.

At the alliance’s meeting on Thursday, Trump lambasted 23 of the alliance’s 28 members — including Germany — for “still not paying what they should be paying” towards the funding of the bloc.

After the NATO and G7 summits, Merkel said at an election rally in southern Germany that “the times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days.”

“We, the Europeans, will have to take our fate into our own hands. Our friendship with the US, the UK, our neighborly relationship with Russia and also with other countries count, of course. But we must know, we have to fight for our own future,” she said.

In response to Merkel’s comments, Britain said it would be a “strong partner” to Germany.

“As we begin the negotiations about leaving the EU, we will be able to reassure Germany and other European countries that we are going to be a strong partner to them in defense and security and, we hope, in trade,” Britain’s interior minister Amber Rudd told BBC radio.

Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd arrives at Downing Street in central London on May 24, 2017, (AFP/Justin TALLIS)
Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd arrives at Downing Street in central London on May 24, 2017, (AFP/Justin Tallis)

“We can reassure Mrs. Merkel that we want to have a deep and special partnership so that we can continue to maintain European-wide security to keep us all safe from the terrorists abroad and those that are trying to be nurtured in our country,” she said.

Separately, France’s Defense Minister Sylvie Goulard said that Trump’s broadside at NATO allies could boost efforts toward a common European defense policy.

“At a time when we want to take steps forward for Europe and its defense, it is a spur,” said Goulard.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “supports building bridges,” spokesman Margaritis Schinas said, while the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Twitter he “agreed” with Merkel that “Europe’s destiny is in our own hands.”

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