Trump's Berlin Envoy Stokes Furor on Iran One Day Into Role

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s ambassador in Berlin is fueling trans-Atlantic tension less than 24 hours into the job after telling German companies to get out of Iran.

Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist and former Fox News contributor, took office as U.S. ambassador to Germany on Tuesday, hours before the president blew the latest hole in relations with Europe by pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear accord.

Trump's Berlin Envoy Stokes Furor on Iran One Day Into Role

With the U.S. set to reimpose sanctions on Iran, Grenell drove home the point, saying on Twitter that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” That stoked consternation in a country that’s among the U.S.’s most loyal allies and is struggling to respond to the American president’s upending of international norms.

“It’s not my task to give lessons in the high art of diplomacy, and certainly not to the U.S. ambassador, but he may need a bit of tutoring,” Andrea Nahles, whose Social Democratic Party is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, told reporters.

“It wasn’t necessary,” Peter Beyer, the German government’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations, said by phone from Washington. “Maybe it’s the new style.”

The sharp words reflect a shifting relationship as Merkel’s chancellery seeks to adapt to a U.S. president it views as having his sights set on curbing Germany’s economic power. Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the U.S. who runs the annual Munich Security Conference, took to Twitter to tell Grenell he risks antagonizing his host nation.

Don’t Lecture

“Ric: my advice, after a long ambassadorial career: explain your own country’s policies, and lobby the host country,” Ischinger said in tweet. “But never tell the host country what to do, if you want to stay out of trouble. Germans are eager to listen, but they will resent instructions.”

Merkel came home empty-handed from Washington in April after urging Trump to stay in the Iran accord and to give the European Union a permanent U.S. tariff waiver on steel and aluminum exports. Trump, meanwhile, has taken aim at Germany over its trade surplus with the U.S., relatively low defense spending and support for the Nord Stream natural-gas pipeline from Russia. He’s also threatened tariffs on German luxury cars.

Grenell sent a follow-up tweet Wednesday saying his earlier comment matched White House talking points. That didn’t halt the outraged response in Germany.

The initial tweet was a “threat” to German industry, Omid Nouripour, a lawmaker with the opposition Greens party, told Deutschlandfunk radio. “This just isn’t a tone of cooperation and one has to tell him that very clearly.”

Pressuring Germany

Grenell has made his mark in U.S. Republican politics, serving during the administration of former President George W. Bush as spokesman for U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, including John Bolton, now Trump’s national security adviser.

Trump has taken up Grenell’s cause, periodically berating Senate Democrats for holding up his confirmation. On Monday the president wished him luck -- “A great and talented guy, he will represent our Country well!” he tweeted.

Grenell, who made the front page of Wednesday’s edition of mass-market Bild newspaper standing beside President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at his confirmation, drew attention in Berlin last month even before his arrival.

After the U.K. and France joined U.S.-led air strikes in Syria, he tweeted on April 13 that “Germany should have joined.” It was a departure from the diplomatic norm of recognizing Germany’s reluctance to join combat missions since World War II.

Eric Schweitzer, head of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said German companies shouldn’t be made to suffer just because the U.S. is leaving the Iran accord -- and Grenell’s intervention wasn’t helping.

“The new U.S. ambassador’s comments are causing great uncertainty and displeasure in the business community,” he said in an email.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.