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Richard Grenell is the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and the longest serving UN spokesman and political appointee in American history, where he served from 2001 to 2008.
Amb Grenell occupies one of the most critical positions in American diplomacy in Berlin, not only because Germany represents the EU’s largest economy and has disproportionate influence on the continent, but because of its pivotal role with respect to both Iran’s efforts to evade U.S. snapback sanctions, and Russia’s efforts to provide energy to and thus leverage over European nations.
During our discussion we touched on the ambassador’s efforts to persuade the Germans to cease trade with Iran and comply with the U.S. sanctions regime – and how those who resist can justify their stated intolerance of Jew-haters while seeking to do business with a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction — Germany’s place in an America First foreign policy, energy, Nord Stream 2 and America’s efforts to counter Russia through selling liquefied natural gas to Germany, Chancellor Merkel and German politics and Amb Grenell’s dogged efforts to deport a Nazi officer who had been living in the United States for decades.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ben’s Opening Monologue
Money is the lifeblood of totalitarian regimes. Shut off the spigot, and combine these efforts with a credible threat of force, and the demonstrated will to use it – preemptively and overwhelmingly if necessary – and you can subdue them, and if in your national interest, perhaps even topple them.
This has been the longtime theory with regard to the Iranian mullocracy.
On November 5th, the U.S. will have reimposed, or “snapped back” pivotal sanctions on the most critical strategic sectors of the already ailing Khomeinist regime – a regime that since the U.S. left the Iran Deal, has seen the collapse of its oil export business, massive capital outflows, the rapid decline of the rial and riots in the streets.
In spite of Iran holding dishonorable distinctions such as its place as the leading state sponsor of jihad in the world, and the world’s leading executioner on a per capita basis and of women and children on an absolute basis, its carrying out of assassinations across the world, drug and weapons running, nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development, and the blood of hundreds of Americans and American allies on its hands – and hundreds of thousands of others across the world – their remain some in the West who are intransigent, unwilling to cease doing business with jackals.
They refuse to comply with sanctions against this evil regime, human rights abuses and direct threats to life and limb be damned in spite of their rhetoric – either out of a truly naïve belief that appeasement with a Nazi-esque regime will cause it to disarm, or out of a sort of cowardly greed, believing one can feed the Khomenist crocodile with trade and satisfy its bloodlust and spare its feeders, all while earning a quick-buck.
But in human history, has paying for protection against regimes of this nature ever proven wise in the long run?
Given this backdrop, I thought that there would be no better authority to discuss the effort to snapback sanctions on Iran as part of a maximum pressure strategy, than a man actually in the room negotiating with business leaders and government officials – some of whom are resisting such efforts to comply with the sanctions – in the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and former longtime U.S. spokesman and appointee at the UN – where he dealt almost every day with Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “jackals,” Richard Grenell.
Ben Weingarten: Ambassador, Germany sits in a vital position in Europe as its leading economy. And it’s wedged both ideologically as well as geographically between a Western Europe that has largely embraced multiculturalism as an unalloyed good, and mass immigration from the Middle East as a humanitarian imperative, versus an Eastern Europe that seems to see a bit more eye-to-eye with the Trump administration in some ways, regarding immigration, national sovereignty and a belief in the need to defend against Russia. Where does the German relationship as you see it fit in the Trump America First doctrine?
Amb. Richard Grenell: Well, first of all, let me just say that we have an incredible partner with the Germans. They view the world largely exactly the same way that we do. I spent eight years at the UN. And if you spend one day at the UN, and you walk into the General Assembly Hall, and you see 193 plaques from different countries, you quickly realize that the Europeans and in particular the Germans really believe in democracy, and human rights, and capitalism. And so we view the world almost identically. Certainly, we have different views when it comes to defense spending, or Nord Stream 2 or the Iran JCPOA deal.
But I think that it’s really important to know that as you point out, Germany is the largest economy in Europe; they’ve got an incredible surplus; they’ve got a workforce that is completely dedicated to innovation; and a reputation on engineering that is bar none, and so there’s much to celebrate in the German economy. Chancellor Merkel has done a very good job of negotiations across the board, whether it’s with other countries or even the United States, and that’s evident in the fact that just in the first six months of this year, they [Germany] had an incredible surplus, again, a budget surplus. So over and above their planned success, they even had more success. So I think what is exciting when you’re in Berlin is that you’re dealing with a country that definitely understands the advantages of a healthy economy, and a committed workforce in a private sector that is really driving the debate in society.
So we have much in common, but again, as we work through some of these other issues — the surplus in particular, and the lack of readiness in the German military are two issues that immediately get bubbled up, and we try to point out the real need of abiding by the NATO commitments of spending 2 percent of your GDP on military spending and reminding the Germans that their successful economy allows them to pay for this increase pretty easily.
And so we’re not dealing with a country that doesn’t have the means to increase its spending, but we’re dealing with the political realities and the political will, and I think that’s an important distinction and one that we try to remind the Germans and utilize as much as possible.
Ben Weingarten: As a consequence of the Germans’ productivity and highly liberalized economy, especially relative to many of the other European economies, they are viewed as a desirable trading partner. And you alluded to the JCPOA colloquially known as Iran deal… Explain… The context behind why there is intransigence among both political figures as well as business executives when it comes to the extensive business dealings that there are between Iranian firms and Germany.
Amb. Richard Grenell: Well, first of all, I think that there is a growing schism in-between the private companies in Germany and the German government. What we hear pretty consistently [is] that the German businesses and European business leaders feel very strongly that when given the choice between doing business in Iran or doing business in the United States, that they’re choosing to do business in the United States. It is a no-brainer for them, and they tell us pretty regularly that this is not an issue, it’s not a hard decision for them, that they are choosing the United States. As soon as the private sector companies realize that the United States policy is a firm policy, and that we’re committed to making sure that sanctions on Iran are implemented properly, I think the German businesses have indicated that they will comply.
That is something that I think that the German government needs to pay more attention to, and we’re trying to bring that to the public’s attention that the pronouncements from the German government of creating alternatives to SWIFT or special purpose vehicles — that’s supplying something that there is no demand for. The German businesses tell us that they will comply with U.S. sanctions, that they’re not looking for a special purpose vehicle. And so we’re pretty confident that from what we hear from German businesses that the Iran sanctions are working and will be implemented pretty universally, and so we’re pleased by that.
Ben Weingarten: With respect to the German officials who are floating trial balloons effectively for things like alternatives to the SWIFT financial system that exists — which many have clamored for officials that comprise that system to disconnect Iran from — many of these German officials of course will speak about the horrors of World War II and antisemitism as a scourge in the world, but it’s very clear that the Iranian government’s position, the Khomeinist regime, has stated very overtly that they wish to destroy, wipe off the map the Jewish state. How do they [German officials] sort of square the idea of opposing anti-Semitism, but also encouraging business with a regime that not only, of course, foments and fosters anti-semitism and bloodshed around the world against Jews and others, but also directly threatens the life and limb of people on European soil, as we just saw in Denmark, as we saw in Paris earlier this year and elsewhere throughout Europe.
Amb. Richard Grenell: Well, look, I think certainly they don’t square it… They struggle to make both of those arguments, but they try to make dual arguments. And I think that exactly the way you lay it out is true, that it doesn’t square and that we have to be vigilant. I mean we’ve just seen in Denmark, another Iranian strategy foiled, another terrorist plot. We’ve seen the phony diplomat in Vienna, who was an Iranian who was a stated Iranian diplomat — this individual was arrested by the Germans because he was planning to deliver an ignition to other individuals who were planning to blow up a conference in Paris. So I think when you look at the evidence, when you look at the intel — and certainly we share intel with the Germans on a regular basis — but when you look at the evidence, the Iranians are increasing their malign activities throughout Europe, and that’s a big concern. And so what we try to do is to show the European governments that it is clear that the Iranian government wants special purpose vehicles, they wanna go around the sanctions. And what we’re trying to show the European governments is that it’s not helpful to go around the sanctions, especially when you look at the monies that are being spent by the Iranian regime on terrorist activities throughout Europe — that in many ways by giving the Iranian regime any type of trade, you are funding some of the problems that develop throughout Europe. So we wanna make that argument very clear that working on a special purpose vehicle, or working on alternatives to SWIFT, are exactly what the Iranian regime wants, and their instability should give us pause.
Ben Weingarten: You alluded a bit earlier to energy issues with respect to Germany and its position in the world, and the president of course has noted the idea that while many European governments have talked about the threat posed by Russia, at the same time, they have a booming energy business with Russia, and Russia around the world has sought to use energy as a point of leverage against those who are recipients of its rich natural resources. To that end recently there’s been news about U.S. efforts to deliver LNG, liquefied natural gas, to Germany. What is the strategic calculus of that effort vis-à-vis Russia.
Amb. Richard Grenell: Well, first of all… President Trump has made it very clear that he wants Europe, and specifically Germany, to buy more U.S. LNG. We are now the world’s leading producer, and have the ability to sell U.S. LNG. And obviously Europe’s policy is to have a diversified energy supply. So in many ways, we are helping the Europeans with their own policy by diversifying their energy supply. And so, we’ve been working since I’ve been here on trying to get the first ever LNG terminal, in Germany. There currently is not one… There’s been a couple of projects that — consortiums that have come together to try to work on establishing one.
President Trump made it very clear that this was his priority. So this was my priority. And what we’ve been able to do is help these consortiums get their applications together, get an assessment of the industry and the needs. We held a U.S. LNG event conference, half a day conference, here at the embassy in Berlin. We invited all of the U.S. LNG suppliers, and producers, and it was a very successful conference in that a lot of the players within the U.S. LNG industry really came together and told us that they feel that there is a change in the industry because of the U.S. commitment to bring LNG to Europe.
And so through that conference and through subsequent dialogue, we’ve had an announcement from the German Government that they will to help establish one, and possibly two LNG terminals, in Germany, and this would be the first and second terminals for Germany. There are several in Europe, but none in Germany. And so this would be the beginnings of the first and second by having the German government, by having Chancellor Merkel and others, decide to use German money to help establish these terminals. It sends a very strong message that LNG is coming… Not only into Europe but into Germany. We’re very proud of that progress, and will continue to push it.
It is something that I think meets… As I said, not only the European desire for diversification of energy, but I think it’s also the German desire to diversify its energy supplies. We have been very concerned about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline because it in our opinion, and from the European opinion, it’s giving too much influence to Russia. Russia has demonstrated over the last several years that they can go on the offense, and grab a portion of a country like they did with Crimea, and so it’s a signal that Russia’s offense is on the rise. It is not something that is getting better. And so, giving Russia a weapon like Russian natural gas in high volumes to a country like Germany is very concerning to the Europeans. And we joined the Europeans in that concern.
Ben Weingarten: I mentioned at the top, the idea of mass immigration being — from the Middle East in particular — having been a chief agenda item for Germany in recent years. And we’ve just seen one of the political consequences of that, at least one of the contributing factors to Chancellor Merkel announcing that she will be stepping aside in the near-to-medium term. Of course, the political consequence results from substantive issues on the ground in Germany. From your perch, what would you say have been the consequences, or lessons or takeaways that we in America can look to, based upon the German experience dealing with the mass influx from the Middle East.
Amb. Richard Grenell: Well, first, let me say, that Chancellor Merkel has accomplished a great deal. You have to remember, and even President Trump has reiterated the fact that she has led an incredible economy, and has led it to a huge surplus. So in many ways, she gets a lot of credit for driving the German economy, which has driven the European economy.
She’s been in office for 13 years, so I think she is like many leaders that have been in for a while, realizing that there’s an end and wants to give up the chairmanship of the CDU [Christian Democratic Union of Germany], of her party, and that will happen. She’s announced that she will give up the chairmanship in December, in early December, at the party convention. So I think there’s a variety of reasons why she’s giving up the chairmanship, but she will be the chancellor for the foreseeable future and we hope to be able to work very closely with her and her team on these other important issues that still remain.
From our perspective, there’s a lot of work to be done. And she still will be the chancellor for a little while. And so we want to really accomplish as much as we can while she’s still in office.
Ben Weingarten: One of your exceptional achievements as ambassador, and clearly a major agenda item year one was arranging for the deportation of an actual SS Nazi officer who had been living in the United States for decades the deportation of him back to Germany. I wonder if you could tell our listeners about that story.
Amb. Richard Grenell: Sure, I was actually quite surprised when I was offered the job by President Trump to be U.S. Ambassador to Germany and President Trump made it clear that there was an admitted Nazi prison guard living in Queens, New York, and the courts — the US courts — had ordered him deported, and yet he was still, 14 years later, still living in New York. And it was actually hard to believe that he wasn’t deported yet. And so President Trump had made it clear that this should be a priority, and so I went to work on it immediately. When I came, I brought it up in the very first meeting with the foreign minister, and I brought it up in subsequent meetings with German officials consecutively. I was actually quite surprised that many German officials hadn’t heard of the case — they hadn’t heard of the case — and that to me was the first signal that previous administrations had not made it a priority enough because the current German officials either couldn’t remember the case or they certainly didn’t know of the name. So I knew there was an opening there.
What we heard early on was very much a legal argument from the Germans that legally they couldn’t take this individual because he wasn’t a German citizen, and so they would immediately go to the next point of saying, “What are we supposed to do with someone who is not a German citizen?” and “How are we to prosecute somebody who is not a German citizen?” So I could see how the legal argument and the legal questions that the U.S. had asked previously would be something that would be unfruitful. And what I wanted to do was to change the argument. So when I came in, I didn’t make a legal argument. I made a moral argument. And I made the argument because this individual served the then-German government, and I felt like regardless of who he is now, where he is now, that there was a moral obligation to take him back. He made these atrocities, he committed these crimes, as someone who worked for the then-German government. And so the current German government in my mind had a moral obligation. And I was surprised that pretty quickly they did admit to that moral obligation, and we had several individuals within the German government who immediately said, “You’re right, we do and let’s work through this.” And so we were able to explain this at the highest levels and get the… Very much a broad spectrum of support to make this happen.
And so, this individual was flown from New York to a senior living center in Germany, and is now living in Germany and no longer in comfort in the United States.
Ben Weingarten: With sanctions on strategically significant sectors, including namely energy, shipping and shipbuilding and of course, finance, fully snapping back from the U.S. on November 5th, do you anticipate both U.S., German and really all Western governments preparing for potential Iranian aggression in the face of those sanctions?
Amb. Richard Grenell: Look I think that we’re constantly facing Iranian aggression. You just look at the evidence, and they’re not waiting for any one event. They’re constantly using their dollars to create instability and foment terror, so I don’t anticipate that anything will change, other than they’ll have fewer dollars to wreak their havoc. And so what I hope is that our European partners will join us in denying funds to this Iranian regime, and force them to come back to the table.
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