Richard Grenell, nominee to be US ambassador to Germany, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 27, 2017. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US envoy remarks to Brietbart provoke backlash
00:42 - Source: CNN
Berlin CNN  — 

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have criticized US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell for giving an interview to far-right news platform Breitbart in which he said he wants to “empower” European conservatives.

Grenell, who took up his post last month and is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, also described Germany’s NATO spending as “woeful” and criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy.

The ambassador has been rebuked for politicizing diplomacy at a time when US-German relations are already strained over Trump’s withdrawals from the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord, along with his imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union.

But Grenell has since insisted that his remarks have been misinterpreted. “The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous,” he wrote on Twitter early Monday.

Germany’s foreign ministry has asked the US for clarification of Grenell’s comments, according to spokesman Christofer Burger.

A State Department official, speaking on background, said, “Ambassador Grenell clarified his comments via Twitter and noted it is not US policy to endorse candidates or parties. He was making general observations in the interview.”

Grenell: Austrian chancellor is ‘rock star’

At a sit-down interview with Breitbart London in Berlin, Grenell said, “There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on.”

He added: “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”

Grenell went on to attribute this “resurgence” to the election of Trump and said that “support is massive” for conservative policies on migration as well as tax cuts and reducing bureaucracy.

He did not say whether he included Merkel – of whom he has previously said he is a “big fan” – as one of the conservatives he supported. But by describing Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – a hard-right conservative who wants to clamp down on migration and support for asylum seekers – as a “rock star” and describing himself as a “big fan,” Grenell made his position clear.

In addition to criticizing Germany’s NATO spending, Grenell alleged that Germany is not ready for military action – both indirect criticisms of a leader who has been in power for 13 years – while also attacking the Chancellor directly for the decision to allow migrants and refugees into the country in 2015.

“Donald Trump talks a lot about chain migration, and that is actually the issue here in Germany — it’s chain migration,” Grenell said. “Many migrants have been allowed to come in, that was the policy of Chancellor Merkel.”