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U.S. Ambassador To Estonia Announces Exit With Criticism Of Trump's EU Comments


James Melville has been the U.S. ambassador to Estonia since 2015. (file photo)

The U.S. ambassador to Estonia has announced his retirement with a sharp critique of President Donald Trump's comments about the European Union and NATO.

Ambassador James Melville, who has served as the U.S. envoy in Tallinn since 2015, made the announcement in a private Facebook post that was first reported on June 29 by Foreign Policy, which said it had seen the message.

The Estonian news outlet Eesti Ekspress on June 30 published a screenshot of the Facebook post.

Melville wrote that he had already been planning to retire but that his decision to depart Estonia on July 29 after three decades in the Foreign Service was driven in part by Trump's recent public comments about the EU and reported criticism of NATO.

"For the president to say the EU was 'set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,' or that 'NATO is as bad as NAFTA' is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it's time to go," Melville wrote.

He added that he had served out a full term in Tallinn and "intended to retire upon the confirmation of a successor."

"Since there's no longer anyone in sight for that role, I suppose I could have stayed on for many more months.... But on balance, I'm glad not to be staying, for all the reasons I've just explained," he added.

European Concerns

Melville's criticism comes amid concerns by European allies about Trump's approach to both the EU and NATO, central pillars of the Western security and economic architecture after World War II.

Trump has criticized what he calls unfair trade practices by the EU, and earlier this month slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum from the 28-nation bloc.

Melville's Facebook post came days after Trump told a rally in North Dakota: "We love the countries of the European Union. But the European Union, of course, was set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank."

Trump has also repeatedly criticized what he calls insufficient military spending by fellow members of NATO. At a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries in Quebec this month, he reportedly told fellow leaders that "NATO is as bad as NAFTA," a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement that he has denounced as unfair.

The comparison was first reported by Axios, which cited an unidentified official reading the quote from notes taken during Trump's private meeting with fellow G7 leaders. The Guardian later cited two unidentified European officials as confirming the quote.

Trump is set to attend a July 11 meeting of NATO leader in Brussels, after which he is scheduled to hold his first one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Melville did not respond to a request for comment sent by RFE/RL on June 30.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn said in a statement to RFE/RL: "Ambassador Melville's assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia is coming to an end in late July at the conclusion of his three-year tour."

"Following the completion of his assignment in late July, Ambassador Melville will retire from the Department of State after nearly 33 years as a diplomat and public servant," the embassy added.

Asked to comment on Melville's Facebook post, the embassy said, "There will be no other comments or statements."

A State Department spokesperson said in a similarly worded statement to CNN and Politico that Melville had "announced his intent to retire" on June 29.

Meanwhile, the State Department said on June 30 that Susan Thornton, the senior U.S. diplomat for Asia, will retire at the end of July.

Her departure will come at a critical time for the United States, which is involved in negotiation with North Korea over its nuclear program and with China over trade issues.

Thornton was picked for the post by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and her appointment reportedly had been opposed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

No reason was given for Thornton’s departure, and the 54-year-old diplomat could not immediately be reached for comment. No replacement was named.

With reporting by Foreign Policy, Eesti Ekspress, Politico, CNN, Axios, Reuters, and The Guardian
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