Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel seeks to ease Europe's fears over incoming president

"I believe we Europeans have our fate in our own hands," Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin. Photo / AP
"I believe we Europeans have our fate in our own hands," Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin. Photo / AP

Preparations take place in Washington for the inauguration. Picture / AP

Germany sought to calm European anxieties over Donald Trump's presidency after he dismissed Nato as "obsolete" and said he believed the EU would break up.

"I believe we Europeans have our fate in our own hands," Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.

"I'm personally going to wait until the American president takes office, and then we will naturally work with him on all levels and see what kind of agreements we can reach."

Merkel spoke out after comments by Trump in a joint interview with the Times and Bild unnerved governments across the continent and caused panicked meetings in Brussels.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, spoke of "astonishment and anxiety" among European leaders at the President-elect's comments.

"I've spoken today not only with EU foreign ministers but Nato foreign ministers as well, and can report that the signals are that there's been no easing of tensions," he said.

Days before his inauguration, Trump praised Brexit as a "great thing" and said he believed other countries would follow Britain out of the EU.

Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, France's Jean-Marc Ayrault said the best response to Trump's interview was a united Europe. But it was Trump's comment that Nato is "obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago" that caused most concern among European leaders, reigniting fears that the US could split the alliance under his leadership.

"Since World War II, the presence of US troops has been a prerequisite for rebuilding the continent, safeguarding peace and ensuring security," Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, said.

"We expect continuity from the new US administration. Mr Trump must maintain this leadership role to ensure security, stability and peace."

Trump's comments were in stark contrast to those of General James Mattis, his newly appointed defence secretary, at his Senate confirmation hearing last week. "If we did not have Nato today, we would have to create it," Mattis said, and EU leaders were pinning their hopes on his view prevailing.

"We are working on the basis that Trump will listen to Mattis, Rex Tillerson [the incoming secretary of state] and foreign policy Republicans," a senior EU diplomat told Reuters.

Mattis accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of seeking to "break the North Atlantic alliance", and Russia was quick to support Trump's latest comments.

"Nato is, indeed, a vestige of the past and we agree with that. We have long been speaking about our views on this organization," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

But the Kremlin was cooler in its response to Trump's suggestion of sanctions relief in exchange for an arms control deal. "Let's wait until he assumes office before we give assessment to any initiatives," Peskov said.

Merkel's office said she was working to set up a meeting with Trump. But the German Chancellor's relations with the new American president appear to have started poorly after he accused her of a "very catastrophic mistake" in opening Germany's doors to asylum seekers. Merkel said Trump was confusing taking in refugees fleeing war with being soft on terrorism.

Trump also threatened to impose a 35 per cent tax on German carmakers if they sought to import cars made elsewhere to the US.

Preparations take place in Washington for the inauguration. Photo / AP
Preparations take place in Washington for the inauguration. Photo / AP

Trump's big party low-key

President Barack Obama's first inaugural festivities stretched over five days.
Donald Trump is spending barely three on his.

Bill Clinton hit 14 official balls on the day he was sworn in. Trump plans appearances at three.

And while other presidents have staged parades that lasted more than four hours, Trump's trip along Pennsylvania Avenue is expected to clock in at 90 minutes - making it among the shortest on record.

In a word, the 45th president's inaugural activities will be "workmanlike," said Boris Epshteyn, communications director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a pop-up staff of about 350 people scrambling to put together the proceedings from the second floor of a nondescript government building just south of the Mall.

The notion of a relatively low-key inaugural bereft of many A-list entertainers may come as a surprise, given the President-elect's flair for showmanship and his credentials as a reality TV star.

But Epshteyn said Trump settled on a less flashy approach, including keeping the ticket prices for the inaugural balls at US$50 apiece so that working-class Americans who helped fuel Trump's surprise victory can take part.

Organisers are also expecting an unusually high number of protesters, given how divisive Trump's victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was.

And as of yesterday, nearly three dozen Democratic lawmakers had said they plan to skip the festivities, after revelations of Russia's alleged interference in the election and Trump's rebuke of civil rights icon John Lewis on Sunday.

- Telegraph, Washington Post

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