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Trump surprised Denmark with a cancelled trip because the country won't sell Greenland

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington. [Associated Press]
Published Aug. 21

Two days after he said buying Greenland wasn't a top priority, President Donald Trump canceled an upcoming trip to Denmark, which owns the mostly frozen island, after its prime minister dismissed the idea.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had called Trump's musing about buying the Danish territory "an absurd discussion" after the former real estate mogul-turned-president began to talk up the idea.

RELATED STORY: Donald Trump has talked about buying Greenland for U.S.

Trump wrote Tuesday: "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 Sunday that he was interested in such a deal for strategic purposes, but said a purchase was not a priority at this time. "It's not No. 1 on the burner," he told reporters.

Trump even joked about his proposal as it came in for ridicule, tweeting a doctored photo of a glistening Trump skyscraper looming over a small village in the Arctic territory.

"I promise not to do this to Greenland," he joked Monday.

Just a few hours earlier, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark tweeted that it was "ready for the POTUS @realDonaldTrump visit!" using an acronym for "President of the United States" along with Trump's Twitter handle.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said later that the visit to Denmark has been canceled.

The decision took the Danish royal palace by surprise, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The White House announced in late July that Trump had accepted an invitation to visit Denmark's Queen Margrethe and participate in a series of meetings, including with Frederiksen and business leaders.

The trip, set to begin at the end of August, includes a stop in Poland to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II.

Trump is expected to go ahead with the Warsaw visit.

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.

RELATED STORY: President tweets pic of Trump Tower looming over Greenland

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.

Ordinary Danes shook their head at the news with many calling Trump an "immature" person "living on another planet."

"He thinks he can just buy Greenland, he acts like an elephant in a china shop," said Pernille Iversen, a 41-year-old shopkeeper in Copenhagen.

"This is an insult to (Queen) Margrethe, to Denmark," said Steen Gade, a 55-year-old road worker.

Denmark's U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands was apparently not informed of Trump's decision.

Asked about Greenland on Sunday as he prepared to return to Washington after a vacation week at his central New Jersey home, Trump said "strategically ... it would be nice" to own the island.

Greenland sits between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A 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.

Times Staff Writer Daniel Figueroa IV contributed to this report.

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