Trump putting the US in 'difficult place' by going after Europe on trade: Ex-US ambassador

  • It's "unfortunate" that President Trump is castigating Europe but is treating China with "kid gloves," former diplomat Nick Burns says.
  • "This is a really difficult place for the United States to be, and it's not a good place to be," he says.

It's "unfortunate" that President Donald Trump is castigating Europe but is treating China with "kid gloves" when it comes to trade, former diplomat Nick Burns told CNBC on Tuesday.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Trump said the U.S. has been "taken advantage of" by other countries "for decades" and said the European Union has been "particularly tough." His comments come after the announcement last week that the U.S. will impose steel and aluminum tariffs.

"They make it almost impossible for us to do business with them," the president said in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of Sweden. "The European Union has not treated us well. It's been a very, very unfair trade situation."

In an interview with "Closing Bell," Burns said, "The president continues to go after the European Union and describe them as strategic competitor rather than partner."

"This is a really difficult place for the United States to be, and it's not a good place to be. These are our allies in Europe," he added.

Meanwhile, it is China that's the major trade violator in the world, said Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and was the State Department's third-ranking official during George W. Bush's presidency. He also advised the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"The president just doesn't have it quite right. I understand … he's trying to treat China respectfully because he needs them on North Korea," he said. "You've got to be a little bit more honest and transparent about our long-standing trade differences with the Chinese government."

During the news conference Tuesday, Trump said the U.S. has a deficit of about $500 billion a year with China. "We're doing things with China which are very strong, but they understand it," he said.

The tariff talk has spurred fears of a trade war. When asked if that would happen, Trump said, "We'll have to see," but added, "When we're behind on every single country, trade wars aren't so bad."

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Burns' remarks.