Germany, Nato and EU latest targets for criticism

Shares in German carmakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen have fallen after United States President-elect Donald Trump warned he will impose a border tax of 35 per cent on vehicles imported from abroad to the US market. VIDEO: REUTERS
Top: Workers hanging bunting and huge flags on the west face of the US Capitol in Washington in preparation for Friday. Above: Chairs marked out for Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and Mr Trump during a rehearsal for the presidential inauguration. US
US Army personnel Greg Lowery and Sara Corry playing the parts of President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania on Sunday, as they walk along the parade route in Washington during a dress rehearsal for Inauguration Day, which falls on Friday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Top: Workers hanging bunting and huge flags on the west face of the US Capitol in Washington in preparation for Friday. Above: Chairs marked out for Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and Mr Trump during a rehearsal for the presidential inauguration. US
Workers hanging bunting and huge flags on the west face of the US Capitol in Washington in preparation for Friday. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Top: Workers hanging bunting and huge flags on the west face of the US Capitol in Washington in preparation for Friday. Above: Chairs marked out for Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and Mr Trump during a rehearsal for the presidential inauguration. US
Above: Chairs marked out for Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and Mr Trump during a rehearsal for the presidential inauguration. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • US President-elect Donald Trump predicts that more countries will follow Britain and quit the European Union (EU), which he slammed as "a vehicle for Germany".

In an interview with the London Times and Germany's Bild newspapers on Sunday, he zeroed in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Describing her as "by far Europe's most important leader", he rated his trust in her equal with his for Russian President Vladimir Putin - but warned that such trust might not last very long.

He called Dr Merkel's open-border refugee policy a "catastrophic mistake".

Mr Trump portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed to beat the United States in international trade. For that reason, he said, he is indifferent to whether the EU stays together.

Dr Merkel replied yesterday, saying that Europe's fate is "in (its) own hands", although she wants to work with the US administration "at all levels".

Mr Trump predicted that Brexit will be a success, and said: "If you ask me, more countries will leave."

He told the Times: "People, countries want their own identity, and the UK wanted its own identity."

Mr Trump offered British Prime Minister Theresa May a meeting right after he takes office, and hoped a speedy US-British trade agreement will make Brexit a "great thing".

The US must also address its trade deficit with the rest of the world, particularly with China, he said, with an emphasis on smart trade, rather than free trade.

The Times said Mr Trump was interested in making "good deals with Russia", floating the idea of arms reductions in return for lifting sanctions imposed to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government.

"For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that is part of it," he said, according to the Times, but giving few details.

However, the incoming American leader slammed Mr Putin's intervention in Syria, calling it "a very bad thing" that had led to a "terrible humanitarian situation".

In his discussion with the Times and Bild, Mr Trump signalled a major shift in transatlantic relations. His comments upend decades of US foreign policy, on issues ranging from free trade and refugees to security and the EU's role.

Repeating a criticism of Nato he had made during his campaign, Mr Trump said that while the transatlantic military alliance is important, it "has problems".

"It is obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago," he said. Second, only five of Nato's 28 members pay their fair share, and Nato "did not deal with terrorism". Defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will be Mr Trump's priority for the military.

He refused to say whether he would tear up President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, even though "it is one of the worst deals ever made", but added that his son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, will be tasked with brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

In line with his threats against other carmakers, Mr Trump said German luxury brand BMW would face a 35 per cent import duty on foreign-built cars sold in the US.

BMW should scrap plans for a new plant in Mexico and build it in the US instead, Bild quoted him as saying.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Germany, Nato and EU latest targets for criticism'. Print Edition | Subscribe