Did Nordic leaders troll Trump with ‘orb’ photo?

Top leaders of five Nordic countries are rejecting claims that they “trolled” President Donald Trump by posing for a photo that is drawing comparisons to the US leader’s now-infamous moment with a glowing orb during his trip to Saudi Arabia last week.

The photo, which was first reported by The Hill, shows the prime ministers of Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark all placing their hands on a European soccer ball — an image that would most likely have been viewed as benign had it not surfaced just days after one of the most memorable moments from Trump’s first foreign trip to the Middle East and a NATO summit in Brussels.

Taken during a meeting between several European leaders in Norway this week, the image set social media ablaze when it was posted by the Norwegian Prime Minister, alongside another viral photo taken just days before of Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman holding an illuminated globe in Riyadh.

The caption of the Facebook post also seems to reference Trump, saying: “Who rules the world? Riyadh vs Bergen. Don’t know what they’re on the top photo was thinking. On the bottom photo is the five Nordic Statsministerne that holds a ball with bærekraftsmålene. We hope they’ll be a road map for the future.”

Side by side, there are undeniable parallels between the two photos, but several of the Nordic leaders depicted in the image said it was not meant to intentionally reference or mock the US President.

“This time Twitter has jumped to conclusions that aren’t correct,” said Mary Gestrin, a spokesperson for the Nordic Council of Ministers. “There was no intentional reference to the picture with President Trump and therefore there is absolutely no intended parody either.”

“This football, with the globe printed on it, is commonly used in connection with the campaign for the UN 2030 agenda, which was a topic on the prime minister’s meeting,” Gestrin said in a statement.

Sweden’s prime minister also denied any connection between the two photos in a emailed statement to CNN.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The first photo featuring Trump was taken when he attended the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology this month alongside his host, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

As the lights dimmed, Trump and the two leaders officially “activated” the new center by placing their hands on an illuminated globe, and a four-minute introduction video displayed on large screens behind them, according to local media.

State photographers were on-hand to capture the moment, which quickly spawned memes from social media users who likened the US President to everything from comic book characters to blockbuster movie villains.

Interest in the latest image has been amplified by the foreign policy fallout of Trump’s comments in Brussels last week, in which he chided NATO member countries directly for not meeting their financial commitments to the alliance and declined to reiterate US commitment to the alliance’s mutual defense pledge.

“Members of the alliance must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump told the heads of state, who stood silently — some shifting uncomfortably — behind him.

“Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying, and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” he said.

Denmark, Iceland and Norway are NATO members, while Sweden and Finland work in close concert with the alliance on a variety of issues including cooperation in the Baltic region amid concerns of Russian military activities.

During a 2016 visit to the White House with then-President Barack Obama, CNN reported that the Nordic nations were anxiously monitoring the US presidential election as Trump, a GOP candidate at the time, signaled doubt about the importance of the US commitment to the NATO alliance, particularly as Russia continued a military build-up along its western borders.

And Trump has reiterated that campaign theme throughout the early months of his presidency — repeatedly criticizing key European allies on matters ranging from defense to trade to climate change.

Without mentioning Trump by name, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated a coming shift in relations between Europe and the US following Trump’s remarks at the NATO meeting.

“The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over,” Merkel said at a beer hall rally to support her campaign on Sunday.