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U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell on MSNBC w/Hugh

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The audio:

05-11hhs-grenell

The transcript:

HH: I’m pleased to welcome now a longtime personal friend, radio guest and someone who I was proud to have advocated for and to have seen sworn in as our ambassador to Germany, Ambassador Rick Grenell, who joins us this morning from Berlin. Mr. Ambassador, good to have you here. I was proud to attend your swearing in ceremony last week where Vice President Pence brought you into the government. We have a picture of you there with your partner, Matt, holding the biggest Bible I have ever seen at a swearing in ceremony. What is the story on that Bible?

RG: Well, thanks, Hugh, thanks for having me. That Bible is from 1892. It is my great-great grandfather’s Bible that he purchased in 1892. It’s been passed down through the generations in the Grenell family. And it’s been at weddings and funerals, and at its first swearing in for an ambassador. So my entire family was quite excited.

HH: There was a lot of symbolism in that swearing in ceremony. One of them was the Vice President, who’s taken a lot of heat from social, for being too socially conservative over the years. Here he is swearing in a gay man who holds the highest diplomatic post any gay man has ever held in the United States who’s been openly gay. What was the symbolism of that for the Vice President do that, Rick Grenell?

RG: You know, look, you’d have to really talk to the Vice President about what it means. For me, it just meant that we work well together. We share a lot of the same values. The Vice President of the United States is a great guy. And what Vice President Pence told me and my family and my partner, and my partner’s family, is that he really looks forward to working together. We’re on the same team, in many ways, and so I want to make sure that you know, he speaks for himself on what that symbolism meant. But for me personally, it meant a lot to have the Vice President of the United States swear you in.

HH: Now Rick Grenell, let’s go, Mr. Ambassador, to what your job is. You were sent, I think, to Germany to be a pit bull for Donald Trump’s policies vis-à-vis NATO, vis-à-vis the alliance, vis-à-vis fighting terrorism. Your first tweet came right out of the box pretty doggone hard at the Germans. In fact, let me read it for people. As @RealDonaldTrump said, U.S. sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately. That ruffled some feathers, Mr. Ambassador. How did you respond to the ruffled feathers?

RG: Well look, I’ve heard from a lot of people who actually were extremely supportive of the idea that the business community within Europe should not be doing business with the mullahs. I think that it’s a very fair conversation to have. Look, what I tried to do is to say that the German business community shouldn’t do this. The German government gets to decide what the business community here will do, and individual companies get to decide how they react. All I’m saying is that there’s plenty of evidence out there, and the U.S. government position is that the Iranians are you know, a country and a regime that we shouldn’t be doing businesses with. The U.S. has decided that no U.S. business will have relation inside Iran. We think that the Europeans should follow suit on that, but they get to decide exactly how their companies will behave.

HH: Now Mr. Ambassador, not long after the President ripped up President Obama’s deal with Tehran, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, met with the president of France, Macron, and said this. I want to put her comments up on the screen so people can see exactly what she had to say. She said it is no longer such that the United States simply protects us. But Europe must take its own destiny into its own hands. That’s the task of the future. She said that on Thursday. Was she telegraphing a deep split in the alliance, Mr. Ambassador?

RG: Oh, I don’t think so, Hugh. Look, I spent eight years at the United Nations, and you could spend one day there to realize that the Germans and the Americans are on the exact same side. We fight many of the same issues when it comes to democracy, human rights. But there are times that we disagree, and the Iran deal is one of them. I will say this, though. If you look at the EU3, the European three statement that came out after the Americans withdrew from the Iran deal, it’s very encouraging near the end. Certainly, in the beginning, they say that they’re against us pulling out of this Iran deal. But if you look down further, the EU3 makes a very important statement about the threat of Iran. We are in total agreement that Iran is a threat. And so what we’re having now is just a debate on whether or not the JCPOA will stop the Iranians from getting access to a nuclear weapon or developing programs to get there. We the Americans believe that the JCPOA is not good enough. The Europeans think that it is good enough, and yet I think they are even beginning to move to say we would like to strengthen it. And so we now find ourselves in competing dialogue about how far to strengthen it. But the good news is, is that the EU 3 know that there’s a threat, and they’d like to do something more than the JCPOA. I think there’s now an admission from the Europeans and the Americans that the JCPOA must be improved. Now, we’re going to have discussions on how to improve that.

HH: Speaking about threats, the threat that Iran poses is most critical to the state of Israel. Your first visit as an ambassador in Berlin to another ambassador was to the Israeli ambassador to Germany. Why did you choose to go and visit the Israeli ambassador as your first non-state action as another ambassador-ambassador contact?

RG: Look, I think it’s important for the Americans and the Israelis and the Germans to all be united, and that what I wanted to do is after meeting the president of Germany and presenting my credentials, was go to the other important country in this alliance here, and that’s the Israelis. And so I went over to the Israeli ambassador’s residence. We had a very good talk. He is a smart guy who’s committed in many ways to the same issues that the Germans and the Americans are committed to. And so I think it was more than symbolism. I wanted to begin coordinating right away.

HH: All right. Now Rick Grenell, Germany has always existed right in the middle of Europe. We’ve got a map to show people. Russia off to its east and of course, the west as we understand to the west, all the way, France and United Kingdom and Spain, and it’s always been pulled in both directions. NATO was actually built to keep Germany in the West. Now I’m worried again, and I think a lot of Americans are worried, that the Merkel government is caught betwixt and between. What do you think about Germany’s long term commitment to NATO, to rebuilding its defenses, to being an active participant in the alliance?

RG: Well, certainly more needs to be done. The number one issue that I’m going to be dealing with here is trying to really push the German government to speed up their support for NATO. They’re currently at around 1.22%. The NATO commitment is 2%. Germany’s economy is huge. So an increase from 1.22 to the minimum 2% will be a huge amount of money. And so we have to work with the Germans to find ways. I want to be very creative. I don’t want to just talk over each other, and us you know, the Americans keep saying that the Germans should raise their commitment to 2%, and the Germans tell us that they’re on a path and they’re going to get there by 2030 is what Chancellor Merkel told President Trump. We need to speed that up. But I think it’s my job to get creative, to dig down and to try to find solutions on how to get there. And I think we’re going to look at the procurement process. We’re going to try to work with the current budget and try to find ways in which maybe through accounting, not through any trickery, not through any smoke and mirrors, but are there ways to speed up this process under the current kind of rules that the German government has. The focus is going to be on increasing this as quickly as possible. I think we can make some progress on that. I’ve already met with the defense minister here, Minister Von der Leyen. It’s going to be really important for her to try to speed up this process. She’s committed to doing that. And so we’re going to launch a system together, a strategy to kind of look at that and speed that up as much as possible.

HH: Good news.

RG: But I think there’s no question that the Germans have a commitment to NATO and a commitment to the United Nations peacekeeping operations.

HH: That is great news. My thanks, Mr. Ambassador, Ambassador Rick Grenell, and good luck in your new job. I hope you’ll be back soon. And I’ll be right back.

End of interview.

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