Written by Martin Selsoe Sorensen
The astonishment in Denmark over President Donald Trump’s apparent desire to buy Greenland turned to bewilderment and anger on Wednesday after the American leader abruptly scrapped a state visit because the Danes have no desire to sell.
The cancellation was a rare snub of Denmark’s head of state, Queen Margrethe II, who had extended the invitation to the president and would have hosted him and the first lady.
Later in the day, Trump further strained ties, calling the Danish prime minister’s rejection of the idea “nasty.” News that Trump had called off his visit “came as a surprise,” the Royal House’s communications director told the state broadcaster, adding, “That’s all we have to say about that.”
Others, however, had more to say. “Is this some sort of joke?” Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister, wrote on Twitter. “Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark.”
It was not a joke. A day earlier, Trump said on Twitter that Denmark was “a very special country with incredible people” but added that he was abandoning plans to visit because of the country’s refusal to sell Greenland, a semiautonomous part of the kingdom of Denmark.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had said she had no interest in discussing the sale of Greenland. “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland,” Frederiksen told a Danish newspaper this week. “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said that she had been “nasty” to describe the suggestion as “an absurd discussion.” “All they had to do is say, ‘No, we’d rather not do that or we’d rather not talk about it,’” he said. “Don’t say what an absurd idea that is.”
He added, “You don’t talk to the United States that way.” Frederiksen, asked about his remarks on Danish television, said, “I’m not going to enter a war of words with anybody, nor with the American president.”
She said she found the Danish response to the president’s visit and its cancellation “good and wise.”
On Sunday, Trump said the idea of buying Greenland has been discussed in his administration because of the strategic benefits and in part because of its natural resources, like coal and uranium. He also suggested that the territory was a financial burden to Denmark. “Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal,” Trump told reporters on Sunday of his interest in buying Greenland. “A lot of things can be done. It’s hurting Denmark very badly, because they’re losing almost $700 million a year carrying it. So they carry it at a great loss.”
Greenland’s government is in charge of most aspects of its affairs except foreign policy and defense. Local governments have not managed to develop a sustainable economy and receive more than 50% of the island’s budget in direct subsidies topped with additional Danish spending on defense and enforcement of sovereignty. The total bill amounts to $740 million annually.
The idea of buying Greenland, which came to light last week, had been immediately and flatly rejected by leaders in Greenland and Denmark, who found themselves in the odd position at the time of having to publicly state that “Greenland is not for sale.”
On Wednesday, disbelief and condemnation echoed through the political landscape, as it began to sink in that Trump wasn’t kidding. “Please stop,” Martin Lidegaard, head of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, wrote on Twitter, before citing several other areas of discussion that he said should be of interest to both countries: the Arctic, climate change and the Middle East.
“Total chaos,” the former finance minister Kristian Jensen wrote. “This has gone from a great opportunity for a strengthened dialogue between allies to a diplomatic crisis.”
Before Trump canceled his visit, Frederiksen told a television reporter on Sunday in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland: “Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over. Let’s leave it there.” She also added, “Jokes aside, we would naturally love to have an even closer strategic relationship with the U.S.”
But on Wednesday, Frederiksen acknowledged that the cancellation had been a surprise and “unusual” and that she “regretted” it. Adding to the already considerable awkwardness, Trump’s announcement that he was canceling his trip came not long after the American ambassador, Carla Sands, wrote on Twitter that Denmark was excited about the president’s visit.
A headline in Berlingske, a conservative daily, read “The U.S. and Denmark’s relationship has never been this ice-cold. It will have wide-ranging consequences.” A headline on the website of the state broadcaster read, “Trump sends Denmark and the U.S.’s relationship to the freezing point.”
Frederiksen, however, dismissed speculation that Danish-American relations had been damaged. “I don’t believe the relationship is in crisis,” she said Wednesday. “We are closely connected, and the United States is one of our most important allies. Our cooperation will only expand in strength and range.”
She said that any upcoming decisions about Danish contributions to military missions in Syria or the Strait of Hormuz would be unaffected. She added that Trump was welcome to visit the country at another time.
“The American president and the American people are always welcome in Denmark,” she said.
Many Danes had seen Trump’s visit as a recognition of a special relationship with the United States built on decades of friendly relations, mutual interests in the Arctic, and Danish responsiveness to American calls to action.
Danish troops took part in U.S.-led missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, where 43 Danish troops were killed, a staggering number for a nation of 5.5 million not used to war.
But the suggestion of a potential sale of Greenland by Denmark still stuck many as beyond the pale. “For no reason Trump assumes that (an autonomous) part of our country is for sale,” Rasmus Jarlov, a former minister of business, wrote on Twitter. “Then insultingly cancels visit that everybody was preparing for. Are parts of the U.S. for sale? Alaska? Please show more respect.”