Biden win likely to overshadow Pompeo tour of Europe and mideast

Leaders of all states on tour have congratulated Joe Biden on US presidential vote victory

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo walks to a motorcade vehicle after stepping off a plane at Paris Le Bourget Airport on Saturday, November 14th, 2020. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AFP/Getty

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo walks to a motorcade vehicle after stepping off a plane at Paris Le Bourget Airport on Saturday, November 14th, 2020. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AFP/Getty

 

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has arrived in Paris at the start of a seven-country tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Mr Pompeo’s travels are certain to be awkward, since all the states on his schedule have congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential election.

The Pompeo trip is aimed at shoring up the priorities of the outgoing administration of US 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 US election, and the unusual circumstances will likely overshadow most other issues.

Insiders said low-key meetings have been set for Saturday with civil society, academia and the private sector.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian noted on Friday the “difficult subjects” on the table, such as the situation in Iraq and Iran, terrorism, the Middle East and China.

“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’s coming to Paris. I receive him.”

That meeting will take place on Monday, Mr Le Drian said, suggesting that Mr Pompeo also will meet with French president Emmanuel Macron.

Paris is currently in the middle of a lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

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

Gestures of extravagance

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 US 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.

As he arrived 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 US. “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. Both issues are keenly relevant to France.

There have been three terror attacks in recent weeks in France that have resulted in the deaths of 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.

Congratulations to Biden

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.

Besides France, Turkey, Georgia and Qatar have also 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 generally 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. – AP