German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed US president-elect Donald Trump's criticism of the European Union and her refugee policy on Monday. The EU, she insisted, can take care of itself.
"We Europeans have our fate in our own hands," she told reporters. In an interview with the German mass-circulation newspaper "Bild" on Sunday, Trump had called Merkel's open-door policy for Syrian refugees a "catastrophic mistake."
He added the strange caveat that he had "great respect" for the chancellor, saying he would go into his presidency with an open mind about this "fantastic leader," only to then suggest that his trust might not last long.
Merkel accused Trump of conflating accepting refugees fleeing a war zone with being soft on terrorism.
"I would clearly separate (terrorism) from the existence of refugees in relation to the Syrian civil war…the majority of Syrians left their country because of the civil war, because of the fight against [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad or the oppression by Assad."
She said however that she would approach the Trump administration with an open mind: "When he is in office, and at the moment that's not the case, we will work with the new American government and see what kind of agreements we can reach."
Steinmeier calls out Trump hypocrisy
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also reacted to Trump's interview on Monday, particularly the president-elect's statement that NATO was "obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago."
Doing a similar about-face as with his Merkel comments, Trump then added that the treaty organization was "very important to me," but that some countries were not paying their dues, and he saw this as highly problematic.
Steinmeier slammed Trump's statements, saying from the EU capital Brussels that they "have caused some surprise and consternation here, and surely not just here…his statements contradict things his designated Defense Secretary (James) Mattis just said before Congress."
Merkel mum on 'hard Brexit'
During her press conference, Merkel was also asked to comment on reports that British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to announce her plan for a "hard Brexit" on Tuesday. This could mean that the UK will likely pull out of the European single market - much to the dismay of many of May's Conservative Party colleagues.
In characteristic fashion, Merkel refused to speculate on plans that had not been officially announced, telling the press that Germany would wait for Britain to file its application to leave the European Union.
Merkel's statements came after a meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, who is in the midst of a European tour that also included Brussels and London. Despite his praise for Theresa May's handling of the Brexit preparations, made on the heels of his own free trade negotiations with Britain, Merkel and English were all smiles at the joint press conference. The chancellor said that Germany would push for a speedy EU trade deal with New Zealand.
es/se (AFP, Reuters)