- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2019

It started as a bit of whimsy in August — what if the U.S. offered to buy Greenland, that mass of ice, rare-earth minerals and about 60,000 hearty souls nestled near the North Pole and halfway to Europe?

It was such an odd idea that President Trump’s own aides reportedly weren’t sure whether to take it seriously.

Yet the matter has escalated into a full-blown diplomatic fiasco, with President Trump abruptly canceling a planned September visit to Denmark, which controls the island as an autonomous possession. Mr. Trump said Wednesday he was less infuriated by the refusal than by the face that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen dismissed the idea of a purchase as “absurd.”

“She’s talking to the United States of America. You don’t talk to the United States that way, at least under me,” the president told reporters on the White House lawn.

It was a stunning turn of events for something the president himself admitted this week wasn’t exactly a front-burner issue, and it left Danes shocked, perplexed and — in some cases — fuming.

“Our preparations were well underway,” Ms. Frederiksen said, expressing “regret” and “surprise” over the snub while leaving the door open to further talks about Arctic affairs and saying Mr. Trump was still welcome to come to Copenhagen.

Other Danes, noting the Queen Margrethe II had personally invited the American president and planned a state dinner in his honor, were not so charitable.

Former Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard told broadcaster TV2 that Mr. Trump’s behavior was “grotesque,” and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister, tweeted that Mr. Trump’s cancellation was “deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark.”


Mr. Trump’s American critics caustically noted that the president had shown more respect to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un this summer than to Denmark, a reliable ally and founding member of the NATO alliance.

Yet Mr. Trump doubled down, calling Ms. Frederiksen “nasty” for so quickly dismissing his interest in Greenland — an idea he noted that President Harry S. Truman once pursued.

“I thought it was an inappropriate statement,” he told White House reporters Wednesday. “All she had to do was say, ‘No, we wouldn’t be interested.’”

He said Denmark is losing money on its stake in Greenland even as it fails to spend the full 2% of GDP on defense that is the benchmark for NATO countries.

Denmark is losing $700 million a year with it, it doesn’t do them any good,” he said.

Located partway to Europe and in an ever-evolving Arctic region, Greenland is of strategic importance. It’s rich in minerals, including many critical to high-tech manufacture, and other resources. Though even farther away, China has expressed a deep interest in the Arctic, both as a place for economic development and as an Asia-to-Europe trade route for what Beijing has called its “Polar Silk Road.”

Mr. Trump confirmed his interest in Greenland on Sunday and said it might come up during a September stop in Copenhagen, where plans were already set for a meeting with the queen and bilateral discussions with Danish politicians and business leaders.

By Tuesday night the trip was off, with Mr. Trump abruptly announcing the cancellation on Twitter without even informing the U.S. ambassador in Copenhagen.

Many Danish people were asleep when Mr. Trump sent his online missive, though by morning they were furious.

Morten Ostergaard, leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party, said Copenhagen needs to take a broader look at its alliances.

“It shows why, more than ever, we should consider the EU countries as our closest allies. The man is incalculable,” he wrote.

Ms. Frederiksen said the snub will not affect the American-Danish relationship, yet doubled down on her opposition to selling Greenland.

“This has clearly been rejected by [Greenland Premier] Kim Kielsen, a position that I share of course,” she said.

Peter Rough, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, said the American-Danish relationship won’t be severely damaged by the spat, though both sides may have overstepped.

Trump won the presidency at an age at which he wasn’t going to reinvent himself,” he said. “So it’s natural for him to revert to what he knows — and that is his decades in American real estate. Of course he wants to buy Greenland, one of the most strategic places in the world.”

Still, there’s no pressing reason for the U.S. to buy Greenland, he said. Denmark is a strong and reliable ally that offers the U.S. military unfettered access to the strategic Thule Air Base on Greenland, the Air Force’s northernmost base.

“At the same time, the Danes could have handled the issue more delicately,” he said.

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