The EU Is History and NATO Is "Obsolete," Donald Trump Tells European Newspapers

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Donald Trump

In his first interview with European dailies since the election, the president-elect praises Brexit as “a great thing” and trashes German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Donald Trump has provoked outrage among America's European allies thanks to an interview in which the president-elect called NATO obsolete, sharply criticized the policies of German chancellor Angela Merkel and predicted more countries would follow the U.K. out of the European Union.

Just days before taking the oath of office, Trump gave a joint interview with British newspaper The Times, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and German tabloid Bild.

Excerpts published by the two papers Sunday appear to signal a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, with Trump questioning or dismissing numerous key components of U.S. policy toward Europe, including support for the European Union and NATO and a common front against Russia.

In a wide-ranging interview, the president-elect praised Britain's decision to leave the European Union, calling Brexit “a great thing” and predicted more European countries would follow suit.

He also slammed German chancellor Merkel's immigration policies, which have let hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East enter Europe, calling them "catastrophic." And he suggested the U.S. might lift sanctions against Russia, something the EU opposes. "Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit," The Times quoted Trump as saying.

The president-elect hinted at a possible deal, in which Russia would agree to reduce its nuclear arsenals in exchange for ending sanctions, but he gave no details.

Bild, publishing a version of the interview in German, quoted Trump's criticism of NATO, which had been a staple of his election campaign. The future U.S. president said the military alliance remains important, but said in its current form "it's obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago. Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should.” The Times quoted Trump as saying that only five members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are paying their fair share to support the alliance.

Trump also took aim at German car manufacturer BMW, with Bild quoting him as saying unless BMW dropped plans to open a new factory in Mexico, he would impose a 35 percent import duty on all BMW cars sold in the U.S.

The government in Berlin was quick to respond to Trump's barbs. Speaking to Bild, Germany’s deputy chancellor and minister for the economy, Sigmar Gabriel, said taxing German imports would lead to a “bad awakening” for U.S. carmakers, who he said relied on trans-Atlantic supply chains. “I believe it would make the U.S. car industry weaker, worse and above all, more expensive. I would wait and see what the Congress has to say about that, which is mostly full of people who want the opposite of Trump,” said Gabriel. Asked what Trump could do to make sure German customers bought more American cars, Gabriel said: “Build better cars.”

Gabriel, who as leader of Germany's left-leaning Social Democratic Party, is expected to run against Merkel in national elections this year, also took issue with Trump's criticism of Merkel's refugee policy. Gabriel said there was a link between “America’s flawed interventionist policy, especially the Iraq war, and the refugee crisis,” suggesting U.S.-led conflict in the region contributed to the sharp increase in refugees leaving the Middle East for Europe.

“My advice would be that we shouldn’t tell each other what we have done right or wrong, but that we look into establishing peace in that region and do everything to make sure people can find a home there again,” Gabriel told Bild.