COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a visit to Denmark next month after the prime minister described his plan to buy Greenland as “absurd” took the Danish royal palace by surprise, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Lene Balleby told The Associated Press Wednesday that the news was “a surprise” to the royal household, which formally had invited Trump to visit Denmark Sep. 2 and 3 as part of a European trip. She had no further comments.
Trump announced his decision by tweet after the Danish prime minister dismissed the notion of selling the semi-autonomous territory to the U.S. as “an absurd discussion.”
“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.
There was no immediate reaction from the Danish government. Former government ministers were quick to speak out, however.
Martin Lidegaard, a former foreign minister, told broadcaster TV2 that it was “a diplomatic farce” and said Trump’s behavior was “grotesque” and he was “throwing a hissy fit.”
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. “As far as I know, it has created great frustrations to have spent so much time preparing for a visit that is canceled,” Oxfeldt was quoted as saying.
Trump had said Sunday that he was interested in buying Greenland for strategic purposes, but said a purchase was not a priority at this time. Both Frederiksen and Greenland Premier Kim 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. “I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”
White House spokesman Judd Deere later confirmed that the visit to Denmark has been canceled. Trump’s visit to Poland is expected to be maintained.
Greenland sits between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A 1.7-million-square-kilometer (660,000-square-mile) ice sheet covers 80 percent of the island.
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 there, conditions are far from ideal, due to the long winter with frozen ports, 24-hour darkness and temperatures regularly dropping below minus 30 Celsius (minus 20 Fahrenheit) in the northern parts.
It wouldn’t be the first time an American leader has tried to buy the world’s largest island. In 1946, the U.S. proposed to pay 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, 1,200 kilometers (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. It has been a ballistic missile early warning and space surveillance site since 1961.