President Trump received a largely cordial welcome on the first overseas trip of his presidency. But now that he’s returned to Washington, the foreign leaders he met with are increasingly blunt in their reviews of the American president.
In separate remarks intended mostly for domestic consumption, leaders of Germany, France and Israel all sought to distance themselves from Trump, just days after meeting with the president during his nine-day foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, Brussels and Italy.
Among the sources of friction: Trump’s reluctance to unreservedly commit to the North Atlantic alliance, his skepticism of a climate change accord signed on to by his predecessor, President Obama, and outreach to Palestinians in pursuit of a Middle East peace agreement.
“It’s clear that in Europe at least, that anti-Trump position plays well domestically,” said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the Obama administration. “But the larger issue is that the trip didn’t go well in Europe.”
The dynamic is partly one of Trump’s brash style. “I think what grates on European leaders is the sense that he does not treat them as equals, let alone as allies,” Daalder said. “He approaches them in this confrontational way, in an attempt to constantly get a better deal out of them.”
Trump hasn’t spoken about the trip publicly, avoiding press conferences for the entire journey. But on Twitter, he pronounced the mission a triumph. “Just returned from Europe. Trip was a great success for America. Hard work but big results!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
The reaction abroad was more cautious:
France: New French President Emmanuel Macron said his now-famous white-knuckled handshake with Trump was a deliberate attempt to demonstrate that he wouldn’t be bullied by the American president. “One must show that you won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, but also not over-publicize things, either,” he told the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche. “My handshake with him — it wasn’t innocent.”
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday at a Bavarian beer hall that Europe can no longer “fully rely” on its overseas allies. On climate issues, she said, the Group of Seven meeting was “seven against one” — counting the European Union as part of the seven (and the United States as the one). Her chief political rival took umbrage at the way Trump sought to “humiliate” Merkel in Brussels. “I reject with outrage the way this man takes it upon himself to treat the head of our country’s government,” said Martin Schulz, who is challenging Merkel for the chancellorship as an “anti-Trump” candidate. He said Trump was “acting like an autocratic leader.”
United Kingdom: British Prime Minister Theresa May is upset that American intelligence officials leaked information about the Manchester concert bombing to the media. Trump acknowledged that he got an earful from May, tweeting Sunday that she was “very angry” about the leaks. “Gave me full details!”
Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said Israel has “no better friend” than Trump, appeared to hold the president at arm’s length on Monday. Speaking to members of his conservative Likud party, Netanyahu warned that a Trump-brokered peace negotiation with the Palestinians “comes at a price.” And while he welcomed U.S. support for Israel, he emphasized that “there is no such thing as innocent gifts.”
Palestinian Authority: An Israeli television station reported that Trump shouted at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during their meeting in Bethlehem last week yelling, “You tricked me!” and accusing the Palestinian Authority of inciting violence in the West Bank. (The Palestinians denied the report.)
Trump’s trip began in Saudi Arabia with a summit of Muslim Arab leaders — and they’re perhaps the least likely to grumble. After feeling neglected by Obama, the Saudis welcomed a $110 billion arms package and Trump’s more bellicose rhetoric toward mutual enemies like Iran and the Islamic State.
But in Europe, Trump’s “America First” foreign policy appeared to alienate other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the 68-year-old alliance intended to contain Russia — the country at the center of a growing controversy over ties to Trump aides.
At a ceremony meant to solemnize the collective defense provision of the NATO charter in Brussels, Trump failed to explicitly reassure European allies that the U.S. would come to their aid in the event of an attack. Instead, he renewed his complaints that they were not paying their fair share. (In doing so, he misrepresented the commitment by NATO allies to spend at least 2% of their economies on defense.)
And in Sicily, where leaders of the G-7 economic powers gathered, Trump continued his hard-line stance on climate and trade issues. He reportedly told Merkel that Germany was “bad” or “evil” (depending on the translation) because of its trade imbalance with the United States.
But among Trump supporters, his tough talk to foreign leaders drew raves. Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he “could not be more pleased” with Trump’s international travels.
“The trip was executed to near perfection and it appears the president has made great progress on the broad range of objectives,” he said after speaking with Trump on Sunday.