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Fuming over Greenland rebuff, Trump cancels upcoming Denmark visit

President Trump has canceled a planned trip to Denmark because Danish leadership refused to discuss selling Greenland. In Denmark, Trump's decision was seen as "doubly offensive" considering he had reportedly pushed for a grand welcome from the longtime U.S. ally. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on Copenhagen's reaction and why climate change is putting Greenland in the spotlight.

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  • William Brangham:

    In the age of President Trump, tweets often announce official policy. And, last night, it happened again, when the president, on Twitter, declared that he wouldn't travel to Denmark in 10 days' time.

    The reason? Danish leaders wouldn't discuss selling Greenland to the U.S. And, thus, the massive ice-covered island and Danish autonomous territory marked yet another frigid moment in U.S. relations with an ally.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Copenhagen.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The meticulous traditions of the Danish kingdom were trotting on as usual today, as news spread of the White House snub. Horses from the royal stables would have been used during Donald Trump's trip, had he maintained his plan.

    A former Danish prime minister claims the Americans pushed for a formal state visit, with all its ceremony and grandeur. The American ambassador even promoted the visit on Twitter hours before Mr. Trump tweeted that, since Greenland wasn't for sale, he wouldn't be coming.

    President Trump's rebuff is seen here as being doubly offensive, especially to the Danish Queen Margrethe. At her main Copenhagen residence, a spokeswoman would only say they were surprised. According to Danish royal experts, that's palace-speak for being livid.

    The Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, delivered what she thought was a restrained response.

  • Mette Frederiksen:

    I have been looking forwarded to the visit. Our preparations were well under way. A discussion has, however, been raised about a potential sale of Greenland.

    This has clearly been rejected by Kim Kielsen, a position that I share, of course. This doesn't change the character of our good relations.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But her comments over the weekend upset the president.

  • President Donald Trump:

    No, Denmark, I looked forward to going, but I thought that the prime minister's statement that it was absurd, that it was an absurd idea was nasty. I thought it was an inappropriate statement.

    All she had to do is say, no, we wouldn't be interested. But we can't treat the United States of America the way they treated us under President Obama. I thought it was a very not nice way of saying something.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In response, the Danish prime minister says she won't engage in a verbal war.

    But Rufus Gifford, the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark, has gone on the offensive.

  • Rufus Gifford:

    It is embarrassing.

    But I think the bigger shame here is, as I get reaction from Danes this morning, there's not the level of outrage that I sort of wish there was, that this is met with a collective eye-roll of sorts, that this is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    That eye-rolling is evident on the streets of Copenhagen.

  • Anne Field:

    I heard it was because he couldn't buy Greenland. So, if he's that stupid, I think it's good that he's not coming.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Jon Burgwald is an expert on the Arctic region and advises one of the left-leaning parties in the Danish Parliament.

  • Jon Burgwald:

    What he obviously doesn't understand is that Greenland is a sovereign country, with its own government, its own parliament, its own judicial system.

    But, at the same time, it also shows that he has no understanding whatsoever of, to be honest, international politics and diplomacy.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The Danes and Greenlanders may believe that buying the world's largest island is absurd, but the controversy has had the impact of concentrating minds at the very highest level.

    The former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted today that: "The Arctic's security and environmental challenges are too important to be considered alongside hopeless discussions like the sale of Greenland."

    On Twitter, Mr. Trump admonished Denmark over its defense spending as part of NATO and lambasted other European allies for taking advantage of American security guarantees.

  • Nicholas Burns:

    Frankly, I think President Trump is digging a big hole for the United States with Europe. He is by far the most anti-European and anti-NATO leader that we have had.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Nicholas Burns was a career U.S. diplomat and ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration. He's now at Harvard University.

  • Nicholas Burns:

    I think this is the worst treatment of an American ally by an American president in our lifetime. I can't think of anything remotely like this.

    Denmark has contributed over 10,0,000 soldiers over 17 years in Afghanistan. They have lost soldiers there. They have been with us in every major conflict for the past 100 years.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Many Greenlanders have been offended by President Trump, but Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, one of two lawmakers representing the territory in the Danish Parliament, is taking a more positive view.

  • Aaja Chemnitz Larsen:

    I think it would be quite interesting to get him to Greenland instead, because it shows a clear interest in Greenland, if you look at the process. So I think, in many ways, it actually put Greenland in a good position.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    So why is Greenland suddenly demanding everyone's attention? The short answer is climate change.

    This is Ilulissat on Greenland's west coast, opposite Canada, which spawns icebergs of the size that sank the Titanic.

  • Rene Forsberg:

    Where we are right now, we see the stranded icebergs. They are coming from the main Jakobshavn glacier up the fjord, 60 kilometers inland. These are the biggest icebergs which get stranded here.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Professor Rene Forsberg works with NASA and the European Space Agency to monitor climate change.

  • Rene Forsberg:

    The Greenland ice sheet mass loss has been accelerating, and it has been accelerating for the last 20 years. We can see that from space. We can see that from the measurements we do.

    There's a lot of untapped potential in the minerals domain. And when the ice sheet retreats, the edges go sort of closer to the center of the ICE, and you do expose new areas.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This mining project in Southern Greenland is a source of potential riches. It's backed heavily by Chinese investors, who want to access rare earth metals used in mobile phone and other advanced technologies.

    The area also has large uranium deposits. The company behind the project predicts a possible annual income of $700 million. There's concern in the U.S. and Denmark that, if China gets a commercial foothold in Greenland, it will mutate into governmental interference in the Arctic.

    Recently, China was in the running to build three new airports in Greenland, but was blocked when, at America's insistence, Denmark stepped in with the necessary finance.

    The United States operates the Thule Air Base in Greenland, which provides early missile warning, space surveillance and control. Having Chinese neighbors would have been most unwelcome.

    The melting icecap is opening up new shipping routes across the top of the world up, which means shorter voyages for vessels carrying Chinese goods. Russia is also fiercely competitive in the Arctic.

    While Greenland is not for sale, it is open for business to America, despite, not because, of President Trump.

  • Aaja Chemnitz Larsen:

    We would like to have collaboration with the U.S., both when we talk about defense, but especially when we talk about investment.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Greenland is a difficult landscape, with a harsh climate. And to realize its potential treasures will require time and patience, qualities not normally associated with the Trump White House.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Copenhagen.

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