Denmark’s political leaders and royal family have expressed shock after Donald Trump cancelled a state visit to the country over their refusal to consider selling Greenland.
Mette Frederikse, the Danish prime minister, said she was “disappointed” by the decision while a spokesman for the Danish royal palace admitted it had been taken by “surprise”.
Less diplomatic responses came from former politicians and opposition figures who said the US president's behaviour was “grotesque”, “smug” and “disrespectful”.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish prime minister, tweeted: “Is this some sort of joke? Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark.”
The outpouring of frustration came after Mr Trump made clear that his interest in buying Greenland, an autonomous country which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, was not a joke.
On Monday, Mr Trump appeared to play up the comic aspect of his considerations, tweeting a picture of a vast gold Trump hotel, writing: “I promise not to do this to Greenland!”
I promise not to do this to Greenland! pic.twitter.com/03DdyVU6HA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019
But on Tuesday night he announced that due to the flat-out rejection by Denmark he would be cancelling a trip on September 2 and 3, which was planned after an invitation by the Danish royal family.
“Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time,” he wrote.
“The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”
The remarks clearly indicated that the refusal to consider selling Greenland, a country with a population of 56,000 people which is mainly covered by an ice sheet, was to blame for the cancellation.
Mr Trump had said over the weekend that Greenland’s strategic benefits – there is renewed geopolitical interest in the Arctic as its ice caps melt – and natural resources made it an alluring proposition.
He has also referenced former US president Harry Truman’s attempts to buy the island for $100 million after the Second World War, a move taken in part because of military benefits that would have followed.
So the POTUS has cancelled his visit to Denmark because there was no interest in discussing selling Greenland @BBCRadio4 Is this some sort of joke? Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark.
— Helle Thorning S (@HelleThorning_S) August 21, 2019
However, defending the cancellation, Mr Trump indicated that it was actually the way in which the Danish prime minister had rejected the proposal that was really to blame.
“I thought that the prime minister’s statement that is was an ‘absurd’ idea was nasty,” Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
“I thought it was an inappropriate statement. All she had to do is say ‘no, we wouldn’t be interested’.”
The two-day trip had been designed as a way to celebrate Denmark’s recent past in standing with America, not least in military campaigns in the Middle East.
More than 40 Danish soldiers have been killed in US-led missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – a stark number given the country's population of around 5.8 million.
Danish press said the row marked a major deterioration in the country's ties to America, with one newspaper headline calling relations ”ice cold” and another saying they had reached “freezing point”.
Ms Frederikse, the Danish prime minister, over the weekend had brushed off Mr Trump’s Greenland interest, saying: “Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over.”
But she gave a more sober statement on Wednesday, telling the cameras: “It is with regret and surprise that I received the news that President Trump has cancelled his state visit.”
Ms Frederikse said that preparations for the trip had been “well under way”, but added: ”This does not change the character of our good relations.”
She was not the only one caught out. Carla Sands, the US ambassador to Denmark, had tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that “Denmark is ready” for Mr Trump, adding the words “partner, ally, friend!”
Within hours the trip had been cancelled.