Pompeo arrives in France at start of awkward seven-nation tour

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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 nations on his schedule have congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential election.

The 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 American 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.

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron (AP)

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.

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 United States 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 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. 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 Mr Macron insisted on his nation’s respect for freedom of expression, including the right to draw caricatures.

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.

Beside France, Turkey, Georgia and Qatar have 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 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.

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