COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The prime minister of Denmark said Wednesday she is “disappointed and surprised” by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel his visit to Denmark after she called Trump’s idea of buying Greenland, Denmark’s semi-autonomous Arctic territory, “an absurd discussion.”
Trump, who was scheduled to visit Denmark on Sept. 2-3 as part of a European tour, tweeted his decision early Wednesday. The cancellation stunned Danes and blindsided the Danish royal palace, with spokeswoman Lene Balleby telling The Associated Press it came as “a surprise” to the royal household, which had formally invited Trump.
“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,” Trump said.
The vast island of Greenland sits between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, has a population of 56,000 and has 80% of its landmass covered by a 660,000 square-mile ice sheet.
The political brouhaha over the world’s largest island comes from its strategic location in the Arctic, which due to global warming is becoming more accessible to possible potential oil and mineral resources. Nations from Russia to China, the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are racing to stake as strong a claim as they can to Arctic lands, hoping they will yield future riches.
At the same time, scientists consider Greenland the canary in the coal mine for climate change and say its massive ice sheet has seen one of its biggest melts on record this summer, contributing to a global rise in sea levels.
Frederiksen said she is standing behind the government of Greenland.
“A discussion about a potential sale of Greenland has been put forward. It has been rejected by Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen and I fully stand behind that rejection,” she told reporters at a press conference Wednesday in Copenhagen.
Frederiksen, who took office two months ago in a minority Social Democratic government, went on to say that diplomatic relations between Copenhagen and Washington “are not in any crisis in my opinion” despite Trump’s canceled plans.
“The invitation for a stronger strategic cooperation with the Americans in the Arctic is still open,” Frederiksen told reporters, adding “the United States is one of our closest allies.”
Others in Denmark were not as gracious as the prime minister.
Martin Lidegaard, a former Danish foreign minister, told broadcaster TV2 that it was “a diplomatic farce” and called Trump’s behavior “grotesque.”
Trump’s cancellation was “deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark,” former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt wrote on Twitter.
Claus Oxfeldt, chairman of Denmark’s main police union, told Danish media that authorities had been busy planning the third visit by a sitting U.S. president to the Scandinavian NATO member. “It has created great frustrations to have spent so much time preparing for a visit that is canceled,” Oxfeldt was quoted as saying.
Ordinary Danes shook their heads at the news, with many calling Trump immature.
“He thinks he can just buy Greenland. He acts like an elephant in a china shop,” said Pernille Iversen, a 41-year-old shopkeeper in Copenhagen.
“This is an insult to (Queen) Margrethe, to Denmark,” said Steen Gade, a 55-year-old road worker.
In Greenland, Johannes Kyed, an employee with a mine company, told Denmark’s TV2 channel that wanting to buy a country and its people is a relic of the past.
“This is not the way the world works today,” Kyed said.
The U.S. ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, was apparently not informed of Trump’s decision ahead of time.
Shortly before Trump canceled the trip on Twitter, she sent a tweet saying “Denmark is ready for POTUS,” using an acronym for “President of the United States” along with Trump’s Twitter handle and a photo from Copenhagen’s City Hall square, where a Dane had paid for two pro-Trump ads on giant electronic screens.
Trump had said Sunday that he was interested in buying Greenland for strategic purposes, but said a purchase was not a priority for his government at this time. Both Frederiksen and Greenland leader Kielsen responded that Greenland is not for sale.
“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,” Trump said in the tweet. “I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”
Trump is still expected to visit nearby Poland beginning on Aug. 31.
Retreating ice could uncover potential oil and mineral resources in Greenland which, if successfully tapped, could dramatically change the island’s fortunes. However, no oil has yet been found in Greenlandic waters and the thickness of the ice means exploration is only possible in coastal regions.
Even then, conditions are far from ideal, due to Greenland’s long winters with frozen ports, 24-hour darkness and temperatures that regularly drop below minus 22 Fahrenheit in the island’s northern regions.
American leaders have tried to buy Greenland before. In 1946, the U.S. proposed paying Denmark $100 million to buy Greenland after flirting with the idea of swapping land in Alaska for strategic parts of the Arctic island.
Under a 1951 deal, Denmark allowed the U.S. to build bases and radar stations on Greenland.
The U.S. Air Force currently maintains one base in northern Greenland, Thule Air Force Base, 745 miles south of the North Pole. Former military airfields in Narsarsuaq, Kulusuk and Kangerlussuaq have become civilian airports.
The Thule base, constructed in 1952, was originally designed as a refueling base for long-range bombing missions. Since 1961, it has been a ballistic missile early warning and space surveillance site.
Analysts said, for Trump, his announcement on the cancellation was as close to diplomatic as the American president gets.
“His relatively polite wording in the tweets seems to indicate that he didn’t want to provoke or step up anything,” said Kristian Soeby Kristensen, a political scientist with the University of Copenhagen. He noted that Trump didn’t call Frederiksen “weak” as he has done with others.
Both Denmark and the United States have an interest in “business as usual” as Denmark is “a key partner in the Arctic.”
“They need each other, so I don’t see a buildup of tensions,” he said, adding that, however, “one should be cautious about analyzing Trump’s unconventional foreign policy.”
Darlene Superville in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.