President Trump's speech to the United Nations General Assembly will be remembered less for what he said and more for how his fellow world leaders reacted to it.
At various points, the diplomats chuckled at Trump when he issued boasts about himself or slights toward other countries.
One of Trump's inadvertent punchlines came at the expense of Germany and concerned a new pipeline being built from Russia to the European nation.
Trump is not the first U.S. leader to chastise Berlin for pursuing the construction of a new natural gas conduit from Russia called Nord Stream 2. Both his and Barack Obama's administration worried about increasing Europe's dependence on fuel from Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putinl. In the past, Putin has imposed his will on neighbors such as Ukraine by threatening to cut off gas supplies.
Trump re-articulated those concerns in his U.N. speech on Tuesday.
“Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course,” Trump said.
To that, the German delegation responded by snickering, according to reporters on the scene and those watching the telecast:
German delegation shown laughing after President Trump says they are under threat of becoming completely reliant on Russian gas.— Charles Croucher (@ccroucher9) September 25, 2018
The Germans also chuckled later on when Trump threatened that they would be hostage to Russian energy. But this is the group shot. Fun for all! https://t.co/vJq13gxgMC— Emily Tamkin (@emilyctamkin) September 25, 2018
Berlin-based Washington Post reporter Rick Noack added: “German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas could be seen smirking alongside his colleagues.”
The pipeline project beneath the Baltic Sea remains one of the few points of criticism Trump is willing to raise regarding Russia. But more often than not, Trump's barbs are aimed not at Putin but at German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During a NATO summit in July, for example, Trump said that Germany was “captive to Russia” because of its natural-gas imports. And during another meeting with Baltic leaders in April, Trump said: “Germany hooks up a pipeline into Russia, where Germany is going to be paying billions of dollars for energy into Russia. And I’m saying, ‘What’s going on with that?’ "
Some experts disagreed with the sweeping nature of Trump's remarks at the United Nations.
“I can see some case for concern about excess dependence on Russian gas within the gas market,” said David Victor, an international relations professor at the University of California at San Diego. Noting that Germany's intake of fuel delivered by ship in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is on the rise, he said that “what matters is diversity and flexibility of supply.”
“What he is saying is completely wrong,” Victor added.
During his U.N. speech, Trump also decried his own nation's dependence on the Middle East for oil.
Trump re-upped criticism of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which include U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for “ripping off the rest of the world” by supposedly inflating the price of oil while simultaneously allowing the U.S. military to protect them.
“We defend many of these nations for nothing, and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices,” Trump said. “Not good.”
But French President Emmanuel Macron pinned some blame for high global oil prices — with the international benchmark Brent grade of crude oil hovering around $80 per barrel — on Trump himself. Macron responded to Trump's speech by saying the price of oil would be lower today had the U.S. president not scrapped the nuclear-arms deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions on the OPEC member.
“If he goes to the end of his logic, he’ll see that it’s good for the oil price that Iran can sell it,” Macron said, according to Reuters.
To boot, OPEC does not have a monopoly on current oil production — and therefore does not independently set the price of oil.
Indeed, as Trump himself noted in his speech, the United States has become an increasingly important supplier of fossil fuels abroad, with the U.S. Energy Information Agency projecting the nation will become a net energy exporter by 2022.
“The United States stands ready to export our abundant, affordable supply of oil, clean coal and natural gas,” Trump told other world leaders.
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