US Secretary of State begins difficult tour of 7 countries in France


PARIS – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday discussed “global challenges” with a handful of members of a Parisian think-tank at the start of a tour of seven countries in Europe and the Middle East, trips that are sure to be troublesome since all the nations on his program have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on winning the White House. Pompeo was an almost invisible American envoy on what could be his last official trip to France, tweeting news of his arrival and private meeting with members of the Institut Montaigne, accompanied by photos.

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 American election, and the unusual circumstances will likely overshadow the problems.

In his latest tweet, Pompeo said he discussed “the global challenges we face today, from terrorism to the COVID-19 pandemic” with representatives from the Institut Montaigne. The independent think tank says it promotes “a balanced vision of society, in which open and competitive markets go hand in hand with equal opportunities and social cohesion”.

Pompeo has arrived in France on lockdown to fight a second wave of coronavirus. Unlike the few people sitting around him, he was not wearing a mask.

Pompeo could find himself doing the heavy lifting on Monday, when he is expected to meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and President Emmanuel Macron. According to Macron’s office, the French president spoke with Biden by phone four days ago and expressed his willingness to work together in areas such as climate change, terrorism and health.

For the outgoing Secretary of State and French officials, Monday’s meetings will be a delicate process on difficult issues.

“For the moment, my counterpart is Mike Pompeo, until January 20,” Le Drian said on French channel BFMTV on Friday, referring to the date of the end of Trump’s mandate. “He’s coming to Paris. I get it. ”

Le Drian noted the “difficult subjects” on the table, from the situation in Iraq and Iran to the Middle East and China.

He said he was planning to speak out on any accelerated US troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, clearly fearing that Trump could end his presidency with such a move.

“Which he shouldn’t do, in our opinion,” Le Drian said of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. “What not to do in Iraq either, (we) will tell him. ”

Macron has had a strained relationship with Trump. The two leaders initially worked to woo 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.

The promotion of religious freedom and the fight against terrorism were also among the topics discussed 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 dead, linked to recently republished cartoons of the Prophet of Islam. Anti-French protests have unfolded 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 have publicly congratulated Biden.

Besides France, Turkey, Georgia and Qatar have had difficult relations with the Trump administration, and it was not clear 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 in the framework of new transatlantic relations, we will have to find that. ”


Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


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