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Pompeo visits Paris as France looks to Biden era

By AFP - Nov 17,2020 - Last updated at Nov 17,2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (second from right) pauses as he participates in a wreath-laying ceremony in homage to victims of terrorism at Les Invalides in Paris on Monday (AFP photo)

PARIS — France's Emmanuel Macron on Monday hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch defender of President Donald Trump, for talks while at the same time seeking to build relations with President-elect Joe Biden.

Pompeo arrived in Paris on Saturday at the start of a seven-nation trip to US allies, although his official schedule was extremely light for a two-night stay in the French capital.

His sole engagements on Monday before heading to Istanbul were talks with Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as a wreath-laying to remember victims of terror attacks.

The State Department said in a statement that Pompeo and Macron "discussed significant threats to global security, efforts to counter violent extremism".

These included, according to the statement, Iran's "destabilising" behaviour and the "malign influence" of Lebanese Shiite group Hizbollah in Lebanon.

He stressed "the importance of the transatlantic alliance and NATO unity", it said, following a Trump presidency that had not always seen Europe and the United States in unison.

They also "highlighted our strong cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as efforts to counter the Chinese Communist Party".

'Make no mistake' 


America's top diplomat has been criticised for backing the president as he digs in over his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

"There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration," a defiant Pompeo told reporters moments after announcing his trip last week.

World leaders, however, have shown no doubt about whom they see as the victor, with Macron one of the first to congratulate Biden and speak with him by telephone.

Pompeo has been critical of such overtures to Biden, telling Fox News that such calls to Biden were not objectionable if it was "just saying 'hi'.

"But make no mistake about it, we have one president, one secretary of state, one national security team at a time," he said.

French presidential aides emphasised that it was Pompeo who sought the meeting with Macron and that it was granted “in full transparency with President-elect Joe Biden’s team”.

In a sign of the unease generated by his visit to Paris, no press conferences took place after the meeting.


‘Completely irrelevant’ 


In contrast to some other EU leaders, Macron sought from the outset to win over Trump, making him the guest of honour at Bastille Day celebrations in Paris in 2017 — a trip that included a dinner with their spouses on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

But analysts say that the French leader has little to show for his efforts. Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord and the two leaders also locked horns on Iran, trade and taxing digital giants.

Le Drian said on Friday that he would raise the concerns of France — which has been hit by a number of terror attacks — over Trump’s plans to speed up the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

EU leaders are also still trying to save a hard-won international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which Trump ripped up early in his term.

Pompeo had no official engagements in Paris over the weekend, which he spent with his wife Susan.

From Paris he headed to Istanbul, where his trip has already caused friction.

Pompeo’s only announced meeting is with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople — the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox world — to discuss religious freedom, a key topic for the evangelical Christian Pompeo.

Strikingly, no meetings with Turkish officials are planned during his visit to the country, not even with his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The Turkish foreign ministry called Pompeo’s chosen subject matter for the visit “completely irrelevant”.

In Jerusalem, Pompeo will see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a close partner of Trump but who has congratulated Biden.

Pompeo will also visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Georgia.


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