US secretary of state begins 7-nation tour in France

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) walks to a motorcade vehicle after stepping off a plane at Paris Le Bourget Airport

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed “global challenges” with a handful of members of a Paris think tank Saturday at the start of a seven-
country tour of Europe and the Middle East, travels that were certain to be awkward since all the nations on his schedule have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden for winning the White House.
Pompeo was an all but invisible U.S. envoy on 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 President Donald Trump. It will include visits to Israeli settlements in the West Bank that have been avoided by previous secretaries of state.
The United States’ top diplomat — as well as its president and much of his Republican Party — have not accepted the results of the American election, and the unusual circumstances will likely overshadow the issues.
In his latest tweet, Pompeo said he addressed “the global challenges we are facing today, from terrorism to the COVID-19 pandemic” with Institut Montaigne representatives. 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.”
Pompeo arrived to a France in lockdown to fight a second wave of the coronavirus. In contrast to the few people seated around him, he did not wear a mask.
Pompeo was scheduled to meet French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and President Emmanuel Macron yesterday. According to Macron’s office, the French president spoke with Biden by phone four days prior 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, the meetings will be a delicate demarche on tough issues.
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 plans to speak out on any accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, clearly concerned that Trump could end his presidency with such a move.
Macron has had a tense relationship with Trump. Both leaders initially worked to woo each other with gestures of extravagance, such as Macron making Trump the guest of honor at a Bastille Day military parade. Trump later pulled out of the Paris global climate accord, a blow to Macron.
The United States also left the hard-won Iran nuclear accord, and Pompeo said in a tweet before departing on his trip that “Iran’s destabilizing behavior” would be among topics of discussion.
In an arrival tweet Saturday in France, Pompeo laid out the standard diplomatic groundwork for his Paris talks, noting that France is the “oldest friend and Ally” of the United States. “The strong relationship between our countries cannot be overestimated,” he tweeted.
Promoting religious freedom and countering terrorism were also among topics on the table during his trip, he tweeted. 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 Macron insisted on his nation’s respect for freedom of expression, including the right to draw caricatures.
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 offered public congratulations to Biden.
In keeping with Trump’s refusal to concede, and orders for Cabinet agencies not to cooperate with the Biden transition team, the State Department has not been involved with facilitating Biden’s calls to foreign leaders, according to officials familiar with the process.
At a news conference last week, Pompeo said he would carry on as if there was no change.
“I’m the secretary of state,” he said. “I’m getting calls from all across the world. These people are watching our election. They understand that we have a legal process. They understand that this takes time.” ELAINE GANLEY, PARIS, AP

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