Trump envoy accuses Germany of undermining NATO's nuclear deterrent

BERLIN (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador in Berlin has accused Germany of undermining NATO’s nuclear deterrent, taking aim at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partners after some of their leaders called for nuclear disarmament.

FILE PHOTO: Richard Grenell U.S. Ambassador to Germany attends the "Rally for Equal Rights at the United Nations (Protesting Anti-Israeli Bias)" aside of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Rolf Muetzenich, parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), called earlier this month for the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany - a view that divides his left-leaning party and is not shared by Merkel’s conservatives.

In an opinion piece for German newspaper Die Welt, Ambassador Richard Grenell wrote: “Instead of undermining the solidarity that forms the basis of NATO’s nuclear deterrence, it is now time for Germany to meet its commitments to its allies and to continuously invest in NATO’s nuclear participation.”

“Germany’s political leadership, especially that of the SPD, must now make it clear the federal republic is honouring these commitments and standing by its allies,” added Grenell, who is also U.S. President Donald Trump’s acting national intelligence chief.

The remarks are the latest twist in relations between Berlin and Washington that have often been strained during Trump’s presidency. The president has pressed Germany to raise its defence spending and accused Berlin of being a “captive” of Russia due to its energy reliance.

But Grenell’s comments also come a day after Merkel cited “hard evidence” that Russia was behind a 2015 hacker attack on her Bundestag office -- an assault that she said “pains me”.

“The dangers threatening peace in Europe are not an ‘anachronism’, as some would have us believe,” Grenell said.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the deployment of new nuclear-weapon-capable missiles by Russia on the periphery of Europe and new capabilities of China, North Korea and other countries make it clear that the threat is all too present.”

The coalition agreement between Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD cites successful disarmament talks as a prerequisite for the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Germany and Europe.

However, the debate over nuclear weapons was sparked by news last month that the Defence Ministry wanted to purchase 45 F-18 fighter jets from Boeing to replace ageing Tornado aircraft and take over the German military’s task of so-called nuclear sharing - under which the planes would carry U.S. nuclear bombs to target in a crisis.

If Germany does not buy new jets, the nuclear sharing would end with the planned retirement of the Tornadoes from service in 2030.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Frances Kerry