10:57 GMT26 February 2021
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    During his presidency, Donald Trump openly debated with Washington’s European allies on issues ranging from trade and tariffs to NATO military spending. He also became the first sitting US president to step inside North Korea, as part of a years-long diplomatic campaign to reduce tensions and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

    European Council President Charles Michel took a jab at former president Donald Trump, suggesting that it would be no exaggeration to say that the US leader spoke to the North Koreans more than he did with Brussels.

    “Unfortunately, it is no joke, the previous president spoke more with North Korea than with the Europeans,” Michel said, speaking to Europe 1 radio on Sunday morning.

    Suggesting that the European-US relationship had been “damaged” under Trump, the EC president expressed hope that things will change under his successor, even if Brussels and Washington can’t always have “convergent” views on every issue.

    “With Joe Biden, we have the prospect of a more normal, more respectful dialogue…and on several projects like the climate, to have a strong, objective alliance, which is rather positive and exciting,” Michel said. “But at the same time, I am very realistic…The impact of Donald Trump at the internal level did not disappear with Biden taking the oath of office,” he added.

    The EC official said that areas where views may differ include trade, China (with whom the EU recently signed a massive trade deal), and “perhaps” the regulation of large internet companies. “But there will at least be a space for dialogue, for the exchange of arguments, for more common sense, for more rationality,” he suggested.

    Michel invited Biden to an as yet unscheduled EU summit in November. By contrast, earlier this month, Reuters reported that European diplomats had taken the unprecedented step of refusing to meet with Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, during his planned farewell tour.

    Trump’s North Korea Diplomacy

    Despite threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” in 2017, Trump eventually took a more diplomatic tone, meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un three separate times and forming a personal rapport with him. The president failed to achieve his goal of eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability, but his efforts were nonetheless a stark contrast compared to the policies of previous administrations, which included sanctions pressure and the ramping up of US-South Korean military drills, often near the North Korea’s borders. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden called Kim a “dictator” and a “thug,” and accused Trump of meeting with him for pointless photo ops.

    T-shirts with portraits of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are displayed in a tourist area in Hanoi
    © AP Photo / Vincent Yu
    T-shirts with portraits of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are displayed in a tourist area in Hanoi

    Rocky Road With the Europeans

    Michel’s comments about Trump appear to be an exaggeration. The Republican president paid four visits to France, two apiece to Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and one each to Finland and Poland, for a total of 16 visits to EU countries. This included visits to attend US-EU and NATO, G7 and G20 summits, as well as formal state visits.

    Trump’s foreign policy with the Europeans did differ from his predecessors, however, with the Republican openly debating Brussels over alleged “unfair” trade deals, launching tariff spats, pressuring EU nations to buy more US LNG, threatening sanctions against a Russian-Western European gas pipeline project, and demanding that all NATO members join the US in contributing at least two percent of GDP to defence.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with US President Donald Trump
    © AP Photo / Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with US President Donald Trump

    Problems in the US-European partnership are not unique to Trump, but the president has been criticised for airing the disagreements in public. While blasted for this policy among Washington’s allies, Trump has been praised for it by some US adversaries, with President Bashar Assad of Syria saying in 2019 that Trump was the ‘best US president’ because he was at least “honest” about US intentions, which included the plundering of Syria’s oil.

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