ODENSE, Denmark — The astonishment in Denmark over President Trump’s apparent desire to buy Greenland turned to bewilderment and anger on Wednesday after the American leader abruptly scrapped a state visit because the Danes have no desire to sell.
The cancellation was a rare snub of Denmark’s head of state, Queen Margrethe II, who had extended the invitation to the president and would have hosted him and the first lady.
Later in the day, Trump further strained ties, calling the Danish prime minister’s rejection of the idea “nasty.”
News that Trump had called off his visit “came as a surprise,” the Royal House’s communications director told the state broadcaster, adding, “That’s all we have to say about that.”
Others, however, had more to say. “Is this some sort of joke?” Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister, wrote on Twitter. “Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark.”
A day earlier, Trump said on Twitter that Denmark was “a very special country with incredible people” but added that he was abandoning plans to visit because of the country’s refusal to sell Greenland, a semiautonomous part of the kingdom of Denmark.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had said she had no interest in discussing the sale of Greenland. “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland,” Frederiksen told a Danish newspaper. “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said that she had been “nasty” to describe the suggestion as “an absurd discussion.”
“All they had to do is say, ‘No, we’d rather not do that or we’d rather not talk about it,’” he said. “Don’t say what an absurd idea that is.”
He added, “You don’t talk to the United States that way.”
On Sunday, Trump said the idea of buying Greenland has been discussed in his administration because of the strategic benefits and in part because of its natural resources, including coal and uranium. He also suggested that the territory was a financial burden to Denmark.
“Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal,” Trump told reporters on Sunday of his interest in buying Greenland. “A lot of things can be done. It’s hurting Denmark very badly, because they’re losing almost $700 million a year carrying it. So they carry it at a great loss.”
Greenland’s government is in charge of most aspects of its affairs except foreign policy and defense. Local governments have not managed to develop a sustainable economy and receive more than 50 percent of the island’s budget in direct subsidies topped with additional Danish spending on defense and enforcement of sovereignty. The total bill amounts to $740 million annually.
The idea of buying Greenland, which came to light last week, had been immediately and flatly rejected by leaders in Greenland and Denmark, who found themselves in the odd position at the time of having to publicly state that “Greenland is not for sale.”
On Wednesday, disbelief and condemnation echoed through the political landscape, as it began to sink in that Trump wasn’t kidding.
“Please stop,” Martin Lidegaard, head of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, wrote on Twitter, before citing several other areas of discussion that he said should be of interest to both countries: the Arctic, climate change, and the Middle East.
“Total chaos,” the former finance minister Kristian Jensen wrote. “This has gone from a great opportunity for a strengthened dialogue between allies to a diplomatic crisis.”
Before Trump canceled his visit, Frederiksen told a television reporter on Sunday in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland: “Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over. Let’s leave it there.”
She said that any upcoming decisions about Danish contributions to military missions in Syria or the Strait of Hormuz would be unaffected by the snub. She added that Trump was welcome to visit the country at another time.
“The American president and the American people are always welcome in Denmark,” she said.
Many Danes had seen Trump’s visit as a recognition of a special relationship with the United States built on decades of friendly relations, mutual interests in the Arctic, and Danish responsiveness to American calls to action.
Danish troops took part in US-led missions in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where 43 Danish troops were killed, a large number for a nation of 5.5 million not used to war.
But the suggestion of a potential sale of Greenland by Denmark still struck many as beyond the pale. “For no reason Trump assumes that (an autonomous) part of our country is for sale,” Rasmus Jarlov, a former minister of business, wrote on Twitter. “Then insultingly cancels visit that everybody was preparing for. Are parts of the U.S. for sale? Alaska? Please show more respect.”