European leaders have alternately welcomed and condemned remarks made in President-elect Donald Trump's first interview with foreign media, in which he said he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia, called NATO "redundant" and promised to offer Britain a "quick" trade deal.
Some of his comments, in a joint interview published in the Times of London and German newspaper Bild, have caused fresh fears about what his Administration will do in office. But British lawmakers in particular were enthused by his views on Brexit.
Trump said in the interview published on Sunday that he would be willing to lift sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea in exchange for a nuclear-weapons-reduction deal with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. U.S. and Russia hold the world's largest nuclear stockpile. According to the U.S. State Department, Russia has 1,796 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, while the U.S. has 1,367.
"They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it," Trump told the London Times. "But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit."
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, called Trump's statement "muddled thinking" as the sanctions are over aggression against Ukraine, but called nuclear reductions a deal that "would increase stability."
There was a similarly mixed reaction from Russian politicians, with Senator Konstantin Kosachev saying that annulled sanctions were not worth making security concessions over, Reuters reports. Another Senator, Oleg Morozov, said Russia would be open to discussions about nuclear cuts.
The outgoing U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, who was in Ukraine Monday to meet Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, urged the sanctions remain in place. The international community must "continue to stand as one against Russian coercion and aggression," he said, Reuters reports. "It is Ukraine's best hope to move forward as a united country."
Trump repeated his view that NATO was "obsolete," but went on to say the military alliance was nevertheless still important to him.
"I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago," he told the Times, complaining that member states are not meeting the alliance's guidelines for 2% of GDP to be put toward defense spending.
"I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right ... With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much ... from twenty-two."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Trump's statement on the "obsolete" alliance had been received with "worry and concern." "I've just had a conversation with the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, who has expressed concern at the comments made by Donald Trump that NATO is obsolete," Steinmeier said, reports Deutsche Welle. The German Foreign Minister noted that General John Mattis, Trump's pick for defense secretary, had defended NATO in his confirmation hearing — calling it “the most successful military alliance probably in modern history, maybe ever.”
Moscow was more welcoming of Trump's remarks. "NATO is indeed a relic, we also agree with this," Dmitri Peskov, Russia's government spokesperson, told the press on Monday, Sputnik News reports.
During the interview, Trump said the U.K. was "doing great" leaving the E.U. and showed eagerness to achieve a trade deal with the country "very quickly." He also revealed that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May had given Trump a gift of a copy of Winston Churchill's address to the American people in 1941, and that he plans to invite her to Washington "right after" he takes office.
"I’m a big fan of the U.K., we’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly," Trump told the Times. "Good for both sides. I will be meeting with [Theresa May] — in fact if you want you can see the letter, wherever the letter is, she just sent it. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and ... we’re gonna get something done very quickly."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who campaigned for the country to leave the E.U., told reporters in Brussels that Trump's comments were "very good news."
"It's very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free-trade deal with us and wants to do it very fast and it's great to hear that from President-elect Donald Trump," Johnson said, Reuters reports. "Clearly it'll have to be a deal that's very much in the interests of both sides but I've no doubt that it will be."
May welcomed the news. "We welcome the commitment from the President-elect to engage with the U.K. on this, to work together to agree a deal quickly," the Prime Minister's spokeswoman told the Guardian on Monday.