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Calls grow in Germany for expulsion of disputed US envoy

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Berlin (AFP)

Leading German politicianson Tuesday called for the US ambassador to be expelled, after the staunch ally of Donald Trump was accused of meddling in domestic politics and aggravating already tense ties.

Richard Grenell had taken up his diplomatic posting in Berlin on May 8, and immediately irked Germany when he tweeted on the same day that German companies should stop doing business with Iran as Trump quit the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

He stoked further outrage over the weekend with reported comments to far-right website Breitbart of his ambition to "empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders".

Grenell also raised eyebrows with his plan to host Austria's arch-conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz -- who the US envoy describes as a "rock star", for lunch on June 13.

"What this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy," Martin Schulz, former chief of the Social Democratic Party and an ex-European Parliament president, told national news agency DPA.

"If a German ambassador were to say in Washington that he is there to empower the Democrats, he would have been kicked out immediately.

"I hope that Kurz's visit will lead Mr Grenell's tenure as ambassador in Germany to be short," added Schulz, playing on the German word for short "kurz".

Schulz had earlier tweeted that the US envoy did not behave like a diplomat but like a "far-right colonial officer".

Amid the row, Germany's foreign ministry is seeking clarification from Grenell about his comments, with the topic to be raised at a pre-arranged meeting Wednesday between the envoy and senior official Andreas Michaelis.

"There will certainly be a lot to discuss and that's why it's good that the ambassador will be a guest tomorrow of state secretary Michaelis, and that what has been said can also be discussed," said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

- 'Why is he ambassador?' -

But the opposition far-left Linke party's chief Sahra Wagenknecht said Grenell had disqualified himself as ambassador.

"Someone like US ambassador Richard Grenell, who thinks he can lord over Europe and determine who is governing here, can no longer stay in Germany as a diplomat," Wagenknecht told Die Welt daily.

"If the government takes the democratic sovereignty of our country seriously, then it shouldn't just invite Grenell to a chat over coffee, but expel him immediately," she added.

The storm over Grenell comes as Germany and the United States are experiencing strained ties after Trump ditched the Iran nuclear deal and imposed punishing tariffs on European aluminium and steel.

Underlining the souring transatlantic relationship, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe can no longer rely on the US to protect it, but stressed that the continent must "take its destiny in its own hands".

Although Merkel herself belongs to the conservative camp, commentators said it was clear that Grenell was not seeking to bolster the chancellor's party base, but rather its opponents from the far-right.

"It is bad enough if that's what he is thinking, let alone saying it," said the daily Berliner Zeitung.

Media outside Germany also weighed in on the debate, with Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum arguing that Grenell clearly intended to back "nativist, pro-Russia and anti-pluralist" forces in Europe.

Grenell certainly fulfilled his task if he was sent to Germany to destabilise Merkel's coalition or the Atlantic alliance, she said, "but if those are not his orders... then a different set of questions has to be asked".

"Why is the US ambassador in Germany giving an interview to Breitbart? Why is he involving himself in partisan politics? For that matter, why is he an American ambassador at all?"

The Financial Times meanwhile urged Berlin to respond to Grenell's "undiplomatic behaviour" by holding its line on adhering to the Iran nuclear deal, responding firmly to US tariffs as well as stepping up to its defence responsibilities.

"This makes national and regional security sense, and would build the groundwork for a relationship with the US based on mutual respect and common interests.

"Such a relationship may not be possible while US embassies in Europe are led by Trump loyalists. But Germany and Europe have been left with little choice but to take the long view," warned the business daily.

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