(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Germany ignited a fresh political furor after telling news website Breitbart he wants to “empower” conservative forces across Europe, compounding already tense trans-Atlantic relations.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it will seek a clarification over the comments by U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell when he meets a deputy foreign minister on Wednesday. Grenell said in an interview published Sunday by Breitbart that he sees a “resurgence” of conservatism across Europe.
“I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders,” Grenell said. “I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”
The 51-year-old ambassador’s foray into European politics less than a month into the job marks the second time political Berlin has bristled at his Trump-style diplomacy. On May 9, hours after he started his ambassadorship and coinciding with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord, Grenell said on Twitter that German companies should wind down operations in Iran immediately.
In the Breitbart interview, the former Fox News contributor said he viewed Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. election as an inspiration to the European right against what he called “group-think of a very small elitist crowd” in politics.
The interview triggered a backlash across the German political spectrum. Lars Klingbeil -- general secretary of the Social Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner -- attacked Grenell for wading into German politics.
“I know you are still quite new at your post, but it is not part of the job description of an ambassador to interfere in the politics of his guest country,” Klingbeil said on Twitter.
Merkel, speaking at a press conference in Berlin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, declined to comment on Grenell when asked by reporters. The Israeli leader then responded that he planned to meet the U.S. envoy at the airport before departure.
Grenell pushed back against the criticism, saying the notion that he sought to endorse candidates or parties was “ridiculous.”
He characterized a Tweet accusing him of abetting a “Nazi enabler” -- a derogatory reference to a leader of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, Alexander Gauland -- as “absurd.” Gauland caused an uproar over the weekend by referring to the Nazi era as a “speck of bird shit” in 1,000 years of German history.
“I condemn those comments completely,” Grenell responded in his Tweet.
The U.S. envoy wasn’t explicit in the interview with Breitbart which brand of European conservatism he wanted to empower, and made no mention of Merkel, who leads Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union.
But he did single out Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the conservative leader who governs with the nationalist, anti-immigration Freedom Party. Der Spiegel reported on Monday that Grenell has invited Kurz for lunch at the ambassador’s official residence during a trip Kurz is making to Berlin next week.
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, who is now Trump’s national security adviser.
Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declined to comment on Grenell.
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