BERLIN — “It’s like being a gay conservative in the Republican Party.”
That is Richard Grenell’s instant reply to my question about what it’s like being an American diplomat in Europe with Donald Trump as president. Grenell, the new U.S. ambassador to Germany, is conservative, gay and, as of this week, already controversial. He doesn’t seem to mind at all.
The controversy stems from his Tuesday tweet urging that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” Germans were not amused by what sounded like Orders From Headquarters. Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to Washington, tweeted back: “Never tell the host country what to do, if you want to stay out of trouble.”
Grenell, speaking from his office with expansive views of the Tiergarten and the glass-domed Parliament building, is having none of it.
“I didn’t say ‘you must.’ I didn’t say ‘you have to.’ The word ‘should’ is at a moral level. You can’t do business in Iran without giving money to the mullahs and to the I.R.G.C.,” he says in reference to Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the entirety of which was sanctioned for terrorism by the U.S. in October.
“We have an obligation to explain this, and they”— German industry — “get to choose.”
Well, sort of. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department issued a detailed guidance memo on what sanctions come back into effect and when. Six months from now, “secondary sanctions” imposed against companies and people who do certain types of business with Iran will be back in force.
That means a sword hangs over the head of any European company doing business with Tehran that also has, or seeks, a market in the U.S. The European Union’s entire trade with Iran amounts to $25 billion. With the U.S.: $755 billion. It’s why the idea that Europe will break with Washington in protest of Trump’s Iran decision is absurd. But it’s also why there’s so much resentment.
How to ease the resentment? “The payoff is the trade issues,” Grenell says, hinting that the administration is prepared — in exchange for strong cooperation on Iran — to climb down from its threats to impose steel and aluminum tariffs and to start a trade war with Europe.
He also waxes nostalgic about the depth and breadth of U.S. cooperation with Germany during his time working as U.S. spokesman at the United Nations, including for then-Ambassador John Bolton. Grenell’s close ties to the now-national