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Germany's government formally asked the U.S. ambassador to explain himself. Some German politicians want to do more than that. They want Richard Grenell removed. President Trump's choice for the job did something unusual. He gave an interview to Breitbart, the right-wing site, and instead of keeping out of the politics of the host country as an ambassador normally would, Grenell said he wants to empower right-wing Europeans. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on the German response.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The meeting Richard Grenell was called to yesterday at the German Foreign Ministry was a routine one for newly arrived diplomats.
HEIKO MAAS: (Speaking German).
NELSON: The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters the subject matter of the meeting was anything but routine. Grenell, who is a 51-year-old cancer survivor and Trump's first openly gay appointee, was asked to explain a recent interview he gave to Breitbart. The ambassador is quoted by the conservative online news site as wanting to empower non-establishment conservatives in Europe whose rising success he attributed to Donald Trump. Grenell also sparked controversy last month on his first day on the job when he tweeted that German companies doing business in Iran should immediately wind down operations there.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking German).
NELSON: German broadcaster ARD wryly noted while showing footage of the ambassador that German politicians can't decide whether Grenell is smiling or baring his teeth. The German Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, says the American diplomat is unhappy about the reactions he's triggered. German lawmaker Omid Nouripour of the Green Party says Grenell should be given another chance.
OMID NOURIPOUR: I don't think that the U.S. ambassador to Germany should be expelled, but it's obvious that the way he's speaking in these days is not the language we're used to from diplomats. And I hope this is because he's new in his job, and I hope that he learned from the mistakes he did.
NELSON: Other German politicians were less forgiving, including lawmaker Sahra Wagenknecht of Die Linke, or the Left Party, who spoke with German broadcaster ZDF.
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SAHRA WAGENKNECHT: (Through interpreter) It's somewhat like the colony's new master has arrived to take up his post. No government can allow itself to be treated like that.
NELSON: Der Spiegel magazine accused Grenell of being a Conservative shadow chancellor to Angela Merkel over what it reported was his invitation to right-wing Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to dine at the U.S. embassy next week. Grenell had gushed about Kurz in his Breitbart interview, calling him a rock star. The U.S. embassy told NPR the invitation was a, quote, "common initiative." Officials there refused to elaborate or talk about the German reaction. Grenell, who is a former Fox News commentator and spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations under George W. Bush, also declined to be interviewed. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert earlier this week offered this defense of the ambassador.
HEATHER NAUERT: Ambassadors have a right to express their opinion. They're representatives of the White House, whether it's this administration or other administrations, and we hear them voicing their opinions. And there are sometimes opinions that people may or may not like.
NELSON: John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Berlin during the Clinton administration who has lived here for years, agrees.
JOHN KORNBLUM: Several people are saying he's breaking all the rules of diplomacy. Well, there essentially aren't any rules of diplomacy. What there are is a government or an ambassador's judgment as to what works and what doesn't work.
NELSON: But Kornblum says rulebook or not, Grenell has alienated enough people to make it tougher for him to do his job now. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.
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