Trump worries European allies before inauguration

Even before he enters the White House on Friday, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled that his foreign policy could include a diminished Europe and an unfettered Russia, creating deep unease in many of America’s traditional allies.

In recent days, he has called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance “obsolete” and said he couldn’t “care less” whether the European Union, the 28-nation political and economic bloc that is America’s largest trading partner, held together.

He has rattled nerves in European capitals by criticizing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who heads the continent’s largest economy, and suggesting he might ease sanctions imposed on Russia after its military seized the Crimean peninsula and backed separatists in Ukraine in 2014.

Trump predicted other countries would follow England’s so-called Brexit by leaving the European Union. And his aides telephoned several European institutions, inquiring which country was probably the next to go, said the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the union, Anthony L. Gardner.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Gardner said it would be “sheer folly” and “lunacy” for Trump to encourage a further breakup of the European Union given the strategic importance of the European single market to the U.S. economy.

Trump seemed far less concerned in an interview with Michael Gove, a pro-Brexit member of the British Parliament, that was published in London’s Sunday Times.

“If refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe, I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together cause people are angry about it,” Trump said.

“Personally, I don’t think it matters much for the United States. I never thought it mattered.… I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together. To me, it doesn’t matter.”

Trump went on to equate Merkel, who was one of President Obama’s closest allies, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ordered Russian intelligence agencies to interfere in the U.S. presidential race, in terms of their trustworthiness.

“Well, I start off trusting both, but let’s see how long that lasts,” he said. “It may not last long at all.”

Trump said that he liked the German leader but that she made a “catastrophic mistake” by allowing “all those illegals” to enter Germany, referring to her decision to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and other war zones.

Merkel shot back Monday, indicating she would no longer count on a strong U.S. role in Europe under a Trump administration. “We Europeans have our fate in our own hands,” she said in Berlin.

All of this has left many Europeans, and their U.S. supporters, nervous about the incoming president’s intentions toward Europe.

Trump’s repeated praise for Putin and his promise to improve relations with Russia will leave “Europe twisting in the wind,” said Josef Joffe, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, a national security think tank at Stanford University.

Trump appears indifferent to “the great pillars of Western world order for the last 70 years: Europe and NATO,” Joffe, who is editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, wrote Tuesday in the Guardian newspaper. “Here are the bare bones of Trumpist policy, all of them hard to swallow for Europe and the rest.”

For Trump, a strong European Union “is a counter-balance that he sees as disadvantageous to American power,” said Jacob Parakilas, assistant head of the Americas program at the London think tank Chatham House.

“Trump’s natural allies are those far-right Euroskeptics” who have emerged in recent years in reaction to massive immigration and other change, he said.

They include Brexit architect Nigel Farage, who met with Trump during the presidential campaign, and ultra-right-wing nationalist Marie Le Pen of France, who was spotted last week at Trump Tower in New York. Transition officials said she was not there to meet Trump.

tracy.wilkinson@latimes.com

For more on international affairs, follow @TracyKWilkinson on Twitter

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