Donald Trump is winning little applause in Europe. Literally.
On Friday, world leaders and country representatives gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany.
In addition to handshakes, exchanged pleasantries and speeches from world leaders, we were treated to some rather awkward footage of Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump.
The Vice President gave a speech representing the US — but things took an icy turn when he brought up Mr Trump.
“To all of you, I bring greetings from a great champion of freedom and of strong national defence, who must work with these members of Congress to strengthen America’s military might and strengthen the leadership of the free world,” Mr Pence said. “I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”
At this, there was a complete silence from the crowd. In the footage, Mr Pence waits expectantly his head down for several painful seconds of silence, before he moves on.
You might dismiss this as a simple gesture of listening politely.
But consider this stark contrast: German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a standing ovation after she gave a speech that repeatedly criticised US foreign policy.
In the speech, before 30 heads of government and 90 ministers, Ms Merkel resisted Mr Pence’s calls to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, and criticised the US decision to withdraw its troops from Syria.
“Is it a good thing to immediately remove American troops from Syria, or will it not strengthen Russia and Iran’s hand?”
Mr Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka, who was listening in the audience, did not stand up.
At one point, Ms Merkel slammed the President’s “frightening” move to declare European car imports a “threat to national security”.
“These cars are built in the US — BMW has its largest factory in South Carolina,” she said. “Not in Bavaria — in South Carolina.
“We are proud of our cars and so we should be. If that is viewed as a security threat to the United States, then we are shocked.”
Judging by her facial expression, Mr Trump’s daughter was not happy:
To be fair, she did later tweet a photo of the pair greeting each other and smiling, saying it was “a pleasure” to be with the Chancellor.
It’s not known if the photo was taken before or after the speech.
The 2019 Munich Security Report — put together by the conference’s global leaders and defence chief — took a cynical view of the President.
The report, released prior to the conference, blasted Mr Trump’s theme of praising authoritarian and “illiberal” leaders from Brazil, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.
“The US effort to rally ‘the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order’ and to oppose authoritarian great powers would be far more credible if President Trump and his administration did not display an irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe, suggesting that this administration is living in ‘post-human rights world’,” it said.
“The whole liberal world order appears to be falling apart ― nothing is as it once was,” Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, wrote in an editorial published ahead of the conference.
MERKEL DEFENDS IRAN DEAL
During her speech, Ms Merkel said she shared American concerns about many Iranian efforts to increase its power in the region.
But while she said the split with the US over Iran’s nuclear agreement “depresses me very much,” she defended it as an important channel to Tehran, stressing the need for international diplomacy.
“I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all I see Iran in Syria,” she said. “The only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?”
Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union have been trying to keep the 2015 deal with Iran alive since Mr Trump unilaterally pulled out of it last year.
The deal offers Iran sanctions relief for limiting its nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that, so far, Tehran is sticking to the agreement.
But the US argues that the deal just puts off when Iran might be able to build a nuclear bomb. Mr Pence, in turn, pushed for Europeans to end their involvement in the nuclear deal, calling Iran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world”.
“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” the Vice President said. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”
HUGE PRAISE FOR MERKEL’S SPEECH
Merkel’s speech was warmly received by a number of high-profile figures and analysts.
Former US Vice President Joe Biden, who was in office when the Iran nuclear deal was negotiated, went out of his way to thank Ms Merkel and defended the Iran deal as a “significant agreement”.
Mr Biden told the group that many Americans did not agree with the Trump administration’s “America first” approach.
“You heard a lot today about leadership but in my experience, leadership only exists if somebody and others are with you,” he said after Mr Pence’s address. “Leadership in the absence of people who are with you is not leadership.”
“This was a big and say-it-as-it-is Merkel speech,” said Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “Minutes of applause and standing ovations for a powerful commitment to picking up the pieces of a shattered (world) order and working on a European and (international) order that creates win-win situations.”
Former American diplomat Nicholas Burns praised Ms Merkel as the first non-American “leader of the West” since Franklin D Roosevelt.
In her speech, Merkel also questioned whether it was a good idea for the US to withdraw troops quickly from Syria.
“Is that not also strengthening the possibilities for Iran and Russia to exert influence there?” she asked.
Ms Merkel also defended Germany’s progress in fulfilling NATO guidelines for countries to move toward spending 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence by 2024, which has been criticised as too slow. And overall, she rejected the idea of a go-it-alone foreign policy.
She said it’s better to “put yourself in the other’s shoes … and see whether we can get win-win solutions together”.
Mr Pence stuck to the US line that the 2 per cent NATO guideline is a strict commitment rather than a target, saying while more alliance members have met the criteria, “the truth is, many of our NATO allies still need to do more”.
He also reiterated American opposition to the joint German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which Washington fears will make Europe overly reliant on Russian gas.
“The United States commends all our European partners who’ve taken a strong stand against Nord Stream 2,” he said. “And we commend others to do that same.”
He added: “We cannot ensure the defence of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.”
Ms Merkel defended the pipeline under the Baltic Sea, dismissing the American concerns as unfounded and assuring Ukraine that it won’t get cut off from Russian fuel.
Speaking as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looked on, she told him his country would continue to be a transit country for Russian gas even after the pipeline is complete.
Ms Merkel noted that Europe also has enough terminals to receive more liquefied gas from the US among other options.
“There’s nothing that speaks against getting gas from the United States, but to exclude Russia is the wrong strategic signal,” she said.
– with AP