By SYLVIE CORBET
French President Emmanuel Macron held a closed-door, low-key meeting Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump’s top diplomat, a delicate tip-toe around the ticklish fact that France has already recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the U.S. election winner.
The zero fanfare welcome for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Trump loyalist, at the presidential Elysee Palace was in itself indicative of how Macron’s government is already looking ahead to the Biden era.
No press conferences were held, depriving journalists of an opportunity to ask Macron’s office, his Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian or Pompeo about whether they discussed their conflicting interpretations of the U.S. election result. Unusually, Le Drian met Pompeo at the Elysee Palace, rather than his own office. Macron’s office described Pompeo’s stop as a “courtesy” visit.
Pompeo tweeted a photo of himself wearing a Stars and Stripes face mask in the meeting with “my good friend” Le Drian and said they had an “important discussion.”
“There is no challenge we cannot conquer when the U.S.-France Transatlantic relationship is strong,” he tweeted.
A U.S. State Department statement said Pompeo discussed a range of topics with Le Drian, including the NATO alliance, stabilization efforts for Libya and Africa’s Sahel region, promoting reform and combating extremism in Lebanon, and what the statement described as “our strong alliance in countering the Chinese Communist Party’s malign activity in Europe.” The nature of the alleged activity wasn’t detailed. They also discussed human rights abuses in China’s western region of Xinjiang.
Still, it wasn’t clear why Pompeo came so far in the midst of the pandemic and for so long, on a three-day stop in Paris that is largely locked down because of a surge of coronavirus cases, for such a low-visibility outcome.
Officials in Pompeo’s team said French authorities told them that no press access was possible due to concerns over the pandemic.
Pompeo appeared last week to cast doubt on Trump’s election defeat, speaking instead of “ a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
Macron last week spoke by phone with Biden to congratulate him.
Before meeting Macron and Le Drian, Pompeo laid a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers at a memorial to victims of terrorism at a Paris landmark, the Hotel des Invalides.
The ceremony lasted about a minute.
“The United States stands with France. We mourn the victims, pray for their families, and condemn in the strongest terms these senseless attacks against innocent French citizens.” Pompeo tweeted.
In an arrival tweet Saturday, Pompeo laid out the standard diplomatic groundwork for his Paris visit, noting that France is the “oldest friend and Ally” of the United States.
From Paris, Pompeo was traveling to Turkey.
No meeting with Turkish officials were scheduled during the brief visit to Istanbul, a senior State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly about Pompeo’s agenda said last week.
The stop in Turkey will focus on promoting religious freedom and fighting religious persecution, which is a key priority for the U.S. administration, the official said.
Pompeo will discuss religious issues with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, considered the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, and with the apostolic nuncio to Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
Later stops on the tour will include visits to Israeli settlements in the West Bank that have been avoided by previous secretaries of state.