PARIS – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Paris on Saturday, at the start of a tour of seven countries in Europe and the Middle East, trips that were certain to be inconvenient since all the nations on his program have congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential race.
The trip aims to reinforce the priorities of the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump. It will include visits to Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were avoided by former state secretaries.
America’s top diplomat – along with its president and much of his Republican Party – has not accepted the results of the US election, and the unusual circumstances will likely overshadow the questions.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian noted on Friday the “difficult subjects” on the table, from the situation in Iraq and Iran, to terrorism, the Middle East and China.
“Right now, my counterpart is Mike Pompeo, until January 20…” Le Drian said on BFMTV, referring to Trump’s end date. “He’s coming to Paris. I get it.
That meeting will take place on Monday, Le Drian said, suggesting that Pompeo will also meet with French President Emmanuel Macron. Paris is in the middle of a lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The French president, who spoke to Biden four days ago to offer his congratulations, has had a strained relationship with Trump. The two leaders initially worked to court each other with extravagant gestures, such as Macron making Trump the guest of honor at a July 14 military parade. Trump subsequently withdrew from the Paris global climate agreement, a blow to Macron.
The United States also walked out of the hard-won Iran nuclear deal, and Pompeo said in a tweet before leaving on the trip that “Iran’s destabilizing behavior” would be among the talking points.
In a tweet arriving in France on Saturday, Pompeo laid out the standard diplomatic bases for his talks in Paris, noting that France is “the oldest friend and ally” of the United States. “The strong relationship between our countries cannot be overstated,” he tweeted.
Promoting religious freedom and fighting terrorism were also among the topics on the table during his trip, he tweeted. Both questions are very relevant for France. There have been three terrorist attacks in recent weeks in France that have left four people dead, linked to recently republished cartoons of the Prophet of Islam. Anti-French protests have taken place in some Muslim countries after Macron insisted on his nation’s respect for freedom of expression, including the right to draw cartoons.
After France, Pompeo’s tour takes him to Turkey, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The leaders of all of those countries publicly praised Biden.
Besides France, Turkey, Georgia and Qatar have had difficult relations with the Trump administration, and it was unclear whether Pompeo was planning any public engagements with their leaders – or whether he would answer questions from the press. , with whom he had an icy relationship.
The administration’s relations with Turkey have been particularly strained following the NATO ally’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and Pompeo’s shutdown in Istanbul next week will not include meetings with Turkish officials. Instead, Pompeo will meet with religious leaders to highlight his promotion of religious freedom.
Palestinian officials, who have been snubbed by the Trump administration, have denounced Pompeo’s plans to visit the Psagot settlement in the West Bank. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted on Friday that it was a “dangerous precedent” that legalizes the settlements.
In line with Trump’s refusal to concede and orders to Cabinet agencies not to cooperate with Biden’s transition team, the State Department was not involved in facilitating Biden’s appeals to foreign leaders, according to managers familiar with the process.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Pompeo said he would continue as if there was no change.
“I am the secretary of state,” he said. “I get calls from all over the world. These people are watching our elections. They understand that we have a legal process. They understand that it takes time.
Yet his French counterpart Le Drian looked to the future, asserting last Sunday in Cairo that “we are going to work with the new president of the United States and his team as part of a new transatlantic relationship, we will have to find that.
Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.