President Trump's diplomat prepares for Holocaust Memorial Council

Publication Date05 January 2021
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The interview took place on December 31, 2020.

To hear the interview, go to The Hill on the Middle East podcast. A transcript of the interview follows.

TML: Richard Grenell wasted no time during his tenure as America's ambassador to Germany. Newly appointed, he criticized his host country's open-border policies for Syrian refugees and Germany's policy vis-à-vis Iran.

Despite the criticism he drew from his actions, Ambassador Grenell has earned high praise from others, notably Israeli diplomats who laud his willingness in the fight against terror and for human rights. He served as acting director of intelligence and has now been nominated for a seat on the Holocaust Memorial Council.

Ambassador, thank you for joining us on the Hill on the Middle East.

Ambassador Grenell: I am so excited to be here. Thank you for asking and it's a real pleasure.

TML: Well, nice to have you with us! Ambassador Grenell, you developed quite a reputation for undiplomatic diplomacy. You let Chancellor Merkel know in no uncertain terms how you differed on her open borders policy and Iran. Was that undiplomatic?

Ambassador Grenell: Look, I actually think… look, we spent a long, long time actually talking about diplomacy is and what the purpose of diplomat is, and I think that the purpose of diplomat is to represent your country's views and to make progress on both views. Too many people actually think being a diplomat means a lot of dinner parties and promoting the country to which you go to. And I've just never really viewed that, and the reason why is because I feel really strongly that the US State Department and diplomats are designed to avoid war and to make sure that we make progress on all of the issues that we're faced with.

I could talk a long time about America First policy which is I believe is a policy which every single country around the world embraces. It's Germany First. It's Israel First. It's the UK First; for all of these countries. I've been in thousands of diplomatic negotiations, but have never been in a single one where someone from the other side doesn't ask the United States to do something for them. This is the selfishness of the diplomacy is actually a daily thing and the United States is the only country that gets in trouble for acting for progress from other countries on issues that are important to them.

So, I went to Germany as America's ambassador with really the full intention of just making progress on US policies and the first day I showed up was a change in policy on Iran. We were going to implement full sanctions and we're asking our allies to join us and the reality is Felice, that Germany is a great ally for the United States. We provide a lot of financial help in terms of troops and NATO spending.

Germans do not pay their fair share at NATO. They are probably the country that gets the most benefit from NATO and it's something that multiple administrations, multiple US governments have been asking the Germans to do, so I see it in a very kind way, a very thoughtful way, but a very direct way and I think the directness of asking for something that the American people had been asking for and drawing a line.

This is important for us. This is an important issue that the American people are feeling like the Germans are being hypocritical on not supporting us on Iran, or not supporting us on NATO policies. I think when you say it with passion and clarity, and you also say it as a priority message, not as an afterthought but a top priority message, then it does shake people in a way that [they go] "Wow, this is really blunt."

And so, I don't find that to be undiplomatic at all. I think that that feeds successful diplomacy to the American people.

TML: So you're known for calling a spade a spade, and recently you've talked about the underutilization of the embassies that are throughout the world on behalf of the United States. Can you elaborate on that?

Ambassador Grenell: Yeah, I really… This is an issue that I'm really passionate about. I spent more than 11 years at the State Department, at the US State Department, so I know them really well, and we have wonderful diplomats at the State Department, some of America's smartest people, young people, join the foreign service and really are passionate about making a difference. And I want to turn that passion and that expertise into youthfulness.

You know, there's the term many MBA types use which is nice-to-know versus a need-to-know content. And for me, I think that the State Department has now been entrapped in a whole bunch of content that's just nice to know. And I'll give you an example in running the embassy in Berlin.

We would have a lot of our political officers go out and time in the fields gathering political content about the different political parties that are trying to understand how the German process was working and while it's super interesting...

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