Top US diplomat begins difficult tour of Europe and Middle East

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo (AP)
17:50pm, Sat 14 Nov 2020
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US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has discussed global challenges with members of a Paris think tank at the start of a seven-country tour of Europe and the Middle East.

The top US diplomat’s travels are certain to be awkward since all the nations on his schedule have congratulated president-elect Joe Biden for winning the White House.

Mr Pompeo is taking part in what may be his last official trip to France tweeting out news of his arrival and from his private meeting with members of the Institut Montaigne, accompanied by photos.

The trip is aimed at shoring up the priorities of the outgoing administration of Donald Trump.

It will include visits to Israeli settlements in the West Bank that have been avoided by previous secretaries of state.

Mr Pompeo has followed Mr Trump and much of his Republican Party in not accepting the results of the American election, and these unusual circumstances will likely overshadow the issues.

In his latest tweet, Mr Pompeo said he addressed “the global challenges we are facing today, from terrorism to the Covid-19 pandemic” with Institut Montaigne representatives.

Mike Pompeo (AP)

The independent think tank says it promotes “a balanced vision of society, in which open and competitive markets go hand in hand with equality of opportunity and social cohesion”.

Mr Pompeo arrived to a France under lockdown conditions to fight a second wave of the coronavirus. In contrast to the few people seated around him, Mr Pompeo did not wear a face covering.

Mr Pompeo may find himself doing some heavy lifting on Monday, when he is scheduled to meet French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French president Emmanuel Macron.

According to Mr Macron’s office, the president spoke with Joe Biden by phone four days ago and conveyed his desire to work together in areas such as climate change, terrorism and health.

For the outgoing secretary of state and the French officials, Monday’s meetings will require a delicate touch on some tough issues.

“For the moment, my counterpart is Mike Pompeo, until January 20,” Mr Le Drian said on BFMTV, referring to the date when Mr Trump’s term in office ends.

He said he plans to speak out on any accelerated withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, clearly concerned that Mr Trump could end his presidency with such a move.

In an arrival tweet Saturday in France, Mr Pompeo laid out the standard diplomatic groundwork for his Paris talks, noting that France is the “oldest friend and ally” of the United States, tweeting: “The strong relationship between our countries cannot be overestimated.”

Emmanuel Macron (AP)

The French president, who spoke with Mr Biden four days ago to offer his congratulations, has had a tense relationship with Mr Trump.

Both leaders initially worked to woo each other with gestures of extravagance, such as Mr Macron making Mr Trump the guest of honour at a Bastille Day military parade.

Mr Trump later pulled out of the Paris global climate accord, a blow to Mr Macron.

The United States also left the hard-won Iran nuclear accord, and Mr Pompeo said in a tweet before departing on his trip that “Iran’s destabilising behaviour” would be among the topics for discussion.

Promoting religious freedom and countering terrorism were also among topics on the table during his trip. Both issues are keenly relevant to France.

There have been three terror attacks in recent weeks in France that have killed four people, linked to recently republished caricatures of the prophet of Islam.

Anti-France protests rolled through some Muslim countries after Mr Macron insisted on his nation’s respect for freedom of expression, including the right to draw caricatures.

After France, Mr Pompeo’s tour takes him to Turkey, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The leaders of all of those countries have offered public congratulations to Mr Biden.

Beside France, Turkey, Georgia and Qatar have had fractious relationships with the Trump administration, and it was not clear whether Mr Pompeo has planned public engagements with their leaders – or whether he would take questions from the press, with whom he has a frosty relationship.

The US administration’s relations with Turkey have been particularly strained after the Nato ally’s purchase of a Russian missile defence system, and Mr Pompeo’s visit to Istanbul next week will not include meetings with Turkish officials.

Instead, Mr Pompeo will meet with religious leaders to highlight his promotion of religious freedom.

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