NEW YORK (AP) — Wading into foreign affairs days before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump said Britain's decision to leave the European Union would "end up being a great thing" and predicted the bloc would continue to break apart.
The incoming president, in an interview published Sunday, said European countries are reacting to an influx of immigrants that threaten each nation's identity.
"People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity," Trump said in an interview with London's The Sunday Times and Bild, a German newspaper.
"I believe others will leave," he continued. "I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this: if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe...I think it's gonna be very hard to keep it together, because people are angry about it."
The comments largely echo Trump's rhetoric during his presidential campaign. He helped rally white working-class voters by railing against illegal immigration and vowing to build a massive wall along the border with Mexico.
Trump indicated he was indifferent to whether the EU stays together or not, a sharp break from the Obama administration, which encouraged Great Britain to remain in the EU last year. The vote injected instability across the region and triggered calls for similar moves in France, Sweden and the Netherlands. It also weakened the 28-nation bloc's ability to push back against Russian aggression in Ukraine, among other regional challenges.
Trump did not address Russia in the sections of the interview released Sunday. His praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under intense scrutiny following reports that Russia interfered in the U.S. election to help him win.
He did criticize German Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policies.
While saying he had "great respect" for the German leader, Trump said Merkel made a "catastrophic mistake" by welcoming an influx of immigrants into her country. He indicated that a December attack at a German Christmas market by a Tunisian was one effect of Merkel's policies.
Trump also took aim at another key western alliance in the interview.
He called the North American Treaty Organization, commonly known as NATO, "obsolete because it wasn't taking care of terror" and said member organizations aren't paying their "fair share."
"A lot of these countries aren't paying what they're supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States," Trump said. "With that being said, NATO is very important to me."