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Trump slams Danish PM's 'nasty' rejection of Greenland deal

  • Icebergs floating behind the town of Kulusuk in Greenland. Photo courtesy: AFP
  • General view of the town of Kulusuk in Greenland. Photo courtesy: AFP
  • General view of the town of Kulusuk in Greenland. Photo courtesy: AFP

By Sebastian Smith / with Camille BAS-WOHLERT in Copenhagen

Washington (AFP) -- Donald Trump snapped back Wednesday at the Danish prime minister's "nasty" dismissal of his attempts to purchase Greenland, heightening a row which has already prompted the US president to scrap a state visit.

Hours after announcing he would not visit Copenhagen next month as planned, Trump accused Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of insulting the United States as a whole by rejecting talk of buying Greenland as "absurd."

With Frederiksen voicing her annoyance at Trump's cancellation, the war of words marks another spat between the US and one of its traditional allies since Trump came to power two years ago on an avowedly "America First" foreign policy platform.

Trump -- who made his name as a New York property mogul -- has characterized his idea of buying Greenland as essentially "a large real estate" deal, arguing it is a burden on Denmark as the autonomous territory's economy depends heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he was not the first US president to have raised the idea of buying the vast Arctic island which has housed an American air base since even before it became formally a part of Denmark.

'Not for sale'

"Greenland was just an idea, just a thought. But I think when they say it was 'absurd' -- and it was said in a very nasty, very sarcastic way -- I said, 'We'll make it some other time,'" Trump said.

"We'll go to Denmark. I love Denmark. I've been to Denmark. And, frankly, we'll do it another time."

The idea of the US buying Greenland was initially dismissed as a joke by some, but its strategic location has grown at a time when both Russia and China are flexing their muscles.

Greenland was a Danish colony until 1953, when it became part of the Danish Realm, and it gained "autonomous territory" status in 1979.

Its 55,000 inhabitants -- of whom 17,000 reside in the capital Nuuk -- are more than 90 percent Inuit, an indigenous group from Central Asia.

The government of Greenland has insisted that the island is "not for sale" and Frederiksen told reporters on Wednesday that she fully endorsed that view.

"I am both annoyed and surprised that the US president has cancelled a state visit," said the prime minister who had been preparing to host Trump early next month.

But, she added, "Denmark and the US are not in crisis, the US is one of our closest allies" and the invitation to visit was still open.

Her Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod reaffirmed the strong relationship between the two nations, reporting that he'd had a "frank, friendly and constructive talk" with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"US & Denmark are close friends and allies with long history of active engagement across globe. Agreed to stay in touch on full range of issues of mutual interest," Kofod tweeted.

The State Department said that in this conversation Pompeo expressed appreciation for Denmark's contribution as a US ally.

He and his Danish counterpart also talked about "strengthening cooperation with the Kingdom of Denmark – including Greenland – in the Arctic," the department said.

'Show more respect'

The postponement of Trump's visit -- which was announced on Twitter -- has sparked strong reactions in Denmark.

"Reality transcends imagination... this man is unpredictable," said Morten Ostergaard of the Social Liberal Party, which is part of the ruling coalition.

"For no reason, Trump assumes that (an autonomous) part of our country is for sale. Then insultingly cancels visit that everybody was preparing for," tweeted Rasmus Jarlov, a member of the opposition Conservative Party.

"Are parts of the US for sale? Alaska? Please show more respect."

Nonetheless, the conservative newspaper Jyllands-Posten wrote that Trump's actions ultimately benefitted Denmark, highlighting Greenland's geopolitical value.

The territory is home to the US airbase Thule, crucial during the Cold War as a first line of monitoring against a potential Russian attack.

But the melting polar ice sheet is opening up potentially major shipping routes, and untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals will become increasingly accessible, leading Russia and China to show mounting interest in the region.

As far back as 1867, the US State Department expressed interest in the island. And in 1946, President Harry S. Truman offered $100 million in gold, or parts of Alaska, in exchange for Greenland.

 

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