BERLIN — A leading member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party downplayed irritation with the new U.S. ambassador Tuesday, suggesting that outspoken opinions from the appointee of President Donald Trump are just something to get used to. Opposition politicians have called for the envoy's removal.
During his less than a month representing the U.S. in Berlin, Ambassador Richard Grenell has raised the ire of many Germans. The first irritant was his tweet that German companies should stop doing business with Iran after Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal with Tehran. The latest is Grenell saying in a weekend interview that he wanted to "empower" European conservatives.
He's also drawn criticism for meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu as the Israeli prime minister left Berlin following talks with Merkel, and for a plan to lunch with conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz when Kurz is in Germany to meet Merkel next week.
In the Sunday interview, Grenell called Kurz, who leads a coalition government with Austria's far-right Freedom Party, a "rockstar."
The German Foreign Ministry said it plans to use a Wednesday visit by the ambassador to "clarify" the comments he made in the weekend interview with the conservative Breitbart website.
Volker Kauder, the leader of Merkel's center-right Union bloc in parliament, told reporters Tuesday that while an ambassador typically represents his country's interests and provides information to his own government, "if the American ambassador understands his work a little differently, it's up to him."
Kauder added that he does not plan to comment on every move the ambassador makes.
"I assume that just as I've gotten to know the American president, and now the ambassador, there could be frequent occasion to comment, given what both of them are like," he said. "You have to take it how it is."
Andrea Nahles, the leader of Merkel's junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, was also reserved. She said "he's apparently still defining his new role."
When asked about Grenell at a news conference Monday with Netanyahu, Merkel declined to comment. Netanyahu appeared somewhat flustered, insisting that Israel "respects the government of Germany and its policies, the policies of the chancellor."
"I'm going to meet with him briefly at the airport," Netanyahu volunteered, even though he had not been asked about the ambassador. "I wouldn't draw any meaning into that that just doesn't exist."
Grenell, who was a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration and a longtime Fox News Channel commentator, has declined multiple requests for interviews.
Sahra Wagenknecht, the leader in parliament of Germany's opposition Left Party, was less diplomatic than the governing party politicians, calling for Grenell to be removed.
"Anyone who, like U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, thinks he can say who governs in Europe like a feudal lord can no longer remain in Germany as a diplomat," Wagenknecht told the Die Welt newspaper.
"If the government takes the democratic sovereignty of our country seriously, Grenell shouldn't be invited for a chat over coffee, but immediately expelled," she said.
Geir Moulson contributed to this story.