Handelsblatt Exclusive

Final reckoning with Trump

120412885 Gabriel DPA
Mr. Gabriel seems to have lost patience with the United States. Source: DPA

As he prepares to leave the global stage, Sigmar Gabriel isn’t pulling any punches. In one of his final interviews as German foreign minister, he accused Donald Trump of increasing the risk of conflict in the Middle East, saying a collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal represents the world’s “biggest foreign-policy threat” at the moment.

Mr. Gabriel also charged that new US sanctions being considered for Iran amounted to “an attack on the German export-model.” European businesses, which had reentered the country as sanctions were eased after the 2015 nuclear deal was struck, were now worried “that their investments will go up in smoke because of the uncertain political situation.”

Earlier this month, Donald Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal to US Congress, although European countries as well as Russia and China have stood by the accord. The US legislature is also looking into imposing additional sanctions on Iran, which is accused of supporting terrorist groups and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

“Donald Trump represents anti-modernity.”

Sigmar Gabriel, German foreign minister

Those threats have also had an effect on German businesses, which are afraid of falling foul of US sanctions. International banks will not issue loans for new investments, Mr. Gabriel said, as new sanctions could in future affect any bank that also does business in the United States. That, in turn, could “de facto” kill the Iran nuclear deal, even if the US administration does not formally end it. While US concerns about Iran’s support for terror groups were justified, he added that ending the existing deal was not the right answer: “The world will not become more secure should Iran, after a collapse of the nuclear deal, make a decision to arm itself with nuclear weapons after all.” Rather, he said, the region will become less stable as regional allies such as Israel consider taking matters into their own hands.

It’s hardly the first time Germany’s foreign minister has criticized the US president, but his barbs in Handelsblatt’s latest interview are some of the most personal he’s ever made. Speaking on a train from Berlin to his home in Braunschweig, Mr. Gabriel sounded freer to speak his mind as he prepares to leave his post, probably by the end of the year.

“Donald Trump represents anti-modernity,” Mr. Gabriel charged, adding that much of the US president’s policies were based on domestic politics. “The goal of Donald Trump is to destroy what his predecessor [Barack] Obama took pains to achieve: first healthcare reform, then the international climate deal, and now the nuclear deal with Iran. Foreign policy is thereby being degraded to fulfilling election propaganda.”

Mr. Gabriel also accused the US president of leading a fundamentally damaging change in the US outlook. “Instead of cosmopolitanism, there is now isolation from the world. Instead of common responsibility, now we have ‘America first’,” the foreign minister said. “Instead of fair global trade, we have national deals. Instead of strengthening international law, we have the international law of the strongest.”

These changes are all the more galling for the German finance minister because, he argues, it was the United States that helped Germany reconnect with the west after World War II and prevent a “counter-reactionary revolution” from emerging here over the last seven decades. “And now, in the United States of all places, reactionary ideas are spreading,” he said.

A former party leader and member of the center-left Social Democrats, Mr. Gabriel has been Germany’s foreign minister since the start of this year, but will leave his post once a new governing coalition is formed. Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently negotiating a coalition that could include her Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats and the Greens.

Handelsblatt’s editor in chief Sven Afhüppe, Berlin bureau chief Thomas Sigmund and political correspondent Moritz Koch conducted the interview. Christopher Cermak adapted this story for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors: afhueppe@handelsblatt.com and cermak@handelsblatt.com

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