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EU nations express alarm after Trump closes door on refugees

Trump also signs executive order giving US military 30 days to devise plan to defeat Islamic State group
US President Donald Trump has imposed tight controls on travellers from seven Muslim countries including war-wracked Syria (AFP)

The EU's traditional power couple France and Germany expressed mounting alarm on Saturday at key decisions by US President Donald Trump in his first week in office, saying they raised many issues of concern.

French President Francois Hollande vowed a "firm" response to a growing list of pronouncements by the maverick tycoon, including his encouragement for Brexit and suspension of all refugee arrivals.

Another EU founder member, Luxembourg, also said Trump risks bolstering "hatred towards the West" by slapping tight new controls on travellers from seven Muslim countries including war-wracked Syria.

Hollande spoke out a day after Trump - who has made clear he thinks other EU countries will leave the bloc - called Britain's exit from the European Union a "wonderful thing".

"When he talks about Brexit being a model for other countries, I think we must respond," the French leader told reporters on the sidelines of a summit of southern EU nations in Lisbon.

Trump's "protectionist" measures could "destabilise economies not just in Europe but the economies of the main countries of the world," Hollande added.

"And when he refuses the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we have to respond."

Trump boasted on Saturday that his "very strict" crackdown on Muslim immigration was working "very nicely," amid mounting resistance to the order branded as blatantly discriminatory.

"It's working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over," Trump told reporters, after travellers from those countries were stopped from boarding US-bound planes, triggering angry protests at airports.

"We're going to have a very, very strict ban and we're going to have extreme vetting which we should have had in this country for many years."

Trump also signed an executive order on Saturday giving the US military 30 days to devise a plan to "defeat" IS.

The plan makes good on a key campaign pledge of Trump, who mocked and criticised the slow pace of his predecessor Barack Obama's progress in the fight against the militants.

The text, which calls for a "comprehensive strategy and plans" for the defeat of IS, is seen as meaning more US forces and military hardware moving into Iraq and Syria.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose country voted to leave the EU last June, plunging the bloc into an unprecedented crisis, became the first world leader to meet Trump in Washington on Friday.

Keen to forge a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, May put the accent on global leadership as she cosied up to Trump, refusing to condemn his suspending refugee arrivals, saying Washington was responsible for its own refugee policy.

"The United States is responsible for the United States's policy on refugees. The United Kingdom is responsible for the United Kingdom's policy on refugees," May said at a news conference in Ankara, after being repeatedly pressed to give her opinion on Trump's executive order.

"And our policy on refugees is to have a number of voluntary schemes to bring Syrian refugees into the country, particularly those who are most vulnerable but also to provide significant financial contributions to support refugees in countries surrounding Syria," she added.

But other EU countries have different priorities, and are making their concerns clear.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn condemned the tougher visa measures slapped on seven Muslim states: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

"The decision is … bad for Europe, because it's going to strengthen even further the mistrust and hatred towards the West in the heart of the Muslim world," he told the Sunday edition of German daily Tagesspiegel, excerpts of which were released a day in advance.

"The American president is dividing the Muslim world into good and evil with this," Asselborn said.

The French and German foreign ministers, meanwhile, voiced "concern" about Trump at talks in Paris.

"Welcoming refugees who are fleeing war is part of our duty," France's Jean-Marc Ayrault said after a meeting with his new German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel. 

"This decision can only cause us concern. But there are a lot of other issues that are causing us concern," Ayrault said, with Gabriel at his side.

"The United States is a country where Christian traditions have an important meaning. Loving your neighbour is a major Christian value, and that includes helping people," said Germany's Gabriel, who was on his first trip abroad since his nomination as foreign minister.

"I think that is what unites us in the West, and I think that is what we want to make clear to the Americans."

Trump spoke by phone on Saturday with various world leaders, amid growing international alarm and a legal challenge over his moves.

In a flurry of calls that started early in the morning and rounded out an already frantically paced week, Trump spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The conversations gave the US president an early opportunity to explain new policies that have baffled and unnerved much of the rest of the world.

Hollande warned Trump against adopting a protectionist stance and called on him to respect the principle of accepting refugees.

During the telephone conversation between the two leaders Hollande stressed the "economic and political consequences of a protectionist approach," the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Trump and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on NATO's "fundamental importance," the White House said, despite the American leader's past characterisation of the transatlantic military alliance as "obsolete".

During their telephone call, which also touched on the situation in North Africa and the Middle East, relations with Russia, and the crisis in Ukraine, Trump accepted Merkel's invitation to attend the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, in July.

The White House said in a statement that the pair agreed to boost cooperation to fight terror and violent extremism, as well as to stabilise conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East.

The calls also allow Trump to start developing ties with countries that have been close allies with the United States in recent history, as well as Russia - a perennial foe, but a country with which Trump has said he is keen to improve relations.

Trump has also alarmed European leaders with his positive comments on Putin, and has left open the possibility of lifting sanctions on Russia despite Moscow's annexation of Crimea and role in the Ukraine conflict.

Europe is firmly against this. The French and German ministers reiterated on Saturday that any easing of sanctions on Moscow must be linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreement signed in February 2015.

The ministers also said they plan to contact Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, once he is confirmed, "to discuss the issue point by point and have a clear relationship".

Hollande, speaking in Lisbon, added: "We must affirm our positions and then engage in a firm dialogue on what we think."