German national flags fly from used Audi AG automobiles on the forecourt of the automaker’s showroom in Berlin, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

German Companies Risk U.S. Ban Over Iran, Trump Envoy Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Germany warned companies that they could be barred from the U.S. if they do business with Iran, the latest volley from a diplomat who’s made a habit of irritating his hosts in Berlin.

Ambassador Richard Grenell also told Bild newspaper that Russia can’t be trusted and accused Moscow of using chemical weapons in the U.K., shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet and interfering in elections across Europe. NATO allies who shirk defense-spending goals are “hypocritical,” he added, while on Iran, he doubled down on a warning to German companies that he made a year ago when he took office.

German Companies Risk U.S. Ban Over Iran, Trump Envoy Says

“You can do as much business as you want in Iran, but we have a say with regards to your visa,” Grenell, 52, told the newspaper in an interview. “Because if you do something, we’re not going to agree to let you enter our country.”

A Trump loyalist and one-time Fox News contributor, Grenell has triggered a number of political firestorms in Berlin with his pointed remarks on Iran, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia and military spending. In March, he said the U.S. may curtail intelligence sharing if Germany allows equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies Co. into the country’s fifth-generation mobile networks.

Grenell later criticized a draft budget that showed defense spending falling short as “worrisome,” in line with the Trump administration’s consistent warnings. The ambassador’s intervention raised hackles across the political spectrum and some lawmakers demanded he be expelled.

In Bild, Grenell expressed surprise at German politicians who don’t view the goal to spend 2% of gross domestic product on the military as obligatory. That would include the Social Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior partners, who have rejected the NATO benchmark.

“That someone says you need to reform NATO, but not strive for the 2%, I find hypocritical,” Grenell said. “Another thing that surprised me a lot is how many German politicians try to pretend the 2% goal is only a target and not a real obligation.”

He expressed surprise at Germany’s restraint within the European Union. As the bloc’s most powerful economy, Germany should “flex its muscles.”

“You have the strongest economy, your workforce is phenomenal, your ingenuity, your creativity and your entrepreneurial spirit are the best,” he said. “That’s why I am surprised at how hesitant the Germans are to flex their muscles in Brussels and on the world stage.”

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