Pompeo visits Paris as France looks to Biden era

Francesco FONTEMAGGI

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 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 Pompeo and Macron "discussed significant threats to global security, efforts to counter violent extremism".

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

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

They also discussed "efforts to counter the Chinese Communist Party".

In his talks with Le Drian, Pompeo took an even stronger line against Beijing, discussing "our strong alliance in countering the Chinese Communist Party's malign activity in Europe and human rights abuses in Xinjiang".

- '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.

Macron however was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Biden.

Pompeo has been critical of such overtures to Biden.

In an interview with French daily Le Figaro, he insisted that Trump's legal challenges to the election result were actually reinforcing US institutions, and that it was important to ensure that the vote count had been conducted correctly.

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".

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

- 'Completely irrelevant' -

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 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.

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

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

In his interview with Le Figaro, Pompeo said he and Macron agreed that Turkey's recent actions had been "very aggressive".

Europe and the US needed to work together to persuade Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that these policies were not in his country's best interests, he added.

France and other Western powers have criticised Turkey for its role in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, a scramble for natural gas in the Mediterranean and its backing of Azerbaijan in the recent fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

- 'Completely irrelevant' -

Pompeo's only announced meeting in Turkey 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.

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.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz and news site Axios, Pompeo will become the first secretary of state to visit one of Israel's settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, considered illegal by virtually all other countries.

He will also tour the Golan Heights, whose annexation by Israel was recognised by Trump.

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

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