European leaders hit back at Trump's criticism

US President-elect Donald Trump standing inside the lobby elevator at Trump Tower in New York, on Jan 16, 2017.
US President-elect Donald Trump standing inside the lobby elevator at Trump Tower in New York, on Jan 16, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS • European Union heavyweights Germany and France have led a sharp European response to US President-elect Donald Trump after he branded Nato "obsolete", said more countries would follow Britain out of the EU, and criticised Chancellor Angela Merkel's "catastrophic" decision to open Germany's borders to Syrian refugees.

Mr Trump's remarks to two European newspapers on Sunday have caused further consternation among Eastern European Nato countries nervous about Moscow.

With fears growing in Europe over Mr Trump's commitment to the transatlantic alliance and signs that he will pivot towards Russia, Dr Merkel warned that the continent now has to take responsibility for itself.

"We Europeans have our fate in our own hands," Dr Merkel said on Monday, adding that she will work towards getting the EU to strengthen the economy and fight terrorism.

French President Francois Hollande was more blunt, insisting that the EU "has no need for outside advice" on its affairs.

"I say it here, Europe will always be willing to pursue transatlantic cooperation, but it will determine its path on the basis of its own interests and values," Mr Hollande said at a ceremony in Paris for outgoing US Ambassador Jane Hartley.

Separately, former French prime minister Manuel Valls, now a presidential hopeful, said Mr Trump's remarks amounted to a "declaration of war on Europe", which the incoming US president "quite simply suggests should break up".

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Europe was stunned by Mr Trump's remarks on Nato.

"I said a long time ago that Nato had problems," Mr Trump told The Times of London and Germany's Bild newspaper.

"Number one, it was obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago," he said. "Number two, the countries aren't paying what they are supposed to pay."

Mr Steinmeier said as he went from a meeting with Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg to talks with EU counterparts: "The interview statements of the American President- elect... caused, indeed here in Brussels, astonishment and agitation."

But Mr Stoltenberg was "absolutely confident" in Mr Trump's commitment to Nato, the alliance chief's spokesman said.

Nato "will only become obsolete when threats become obsolete too", Mr Hollande said tartly.

In another comment that alarmed the Europeans, Mr Trump refused to say that he trusted Dr Merkel more than Russian President Vladimir Putin, for whom he has often expressed admiration.

That prompted a rebuttal from outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said on Monday that the President-elect was wrong to criticise the "courageous" German leader.

And Mr Nicholas Burns, a former ambassador to Nato who also advised the presidential campaign of Mrs Hillary Clinton, called Mr Trump's comments "a direct assault on the liberal order we have built since 1945 and a repudiation of the idea that the United States should lead the West".

Mr Trump extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by sanctions over its involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for suspected cyber attacks to influence the US election.

"Let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia," Mr Trump said, suggesting in vague terms that nuclear arsenals could be reduced as sanctions against Moscow eased.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded yesterday that Moscow expects to have a dialogue with the Trump administration on strategic stability, including on nuclear weapons.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'European leaders hit back at Trump's criticism'. Print Edition | Subscribe