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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in France Saturday at the start of a seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, a trip that is certain to be awkward since all the countries on his schedule have congratulated Joe Biden over his victory in the US presidential race while the top US diplomat has not accepted the poll results. Political analysts view Pompeo’s visit as a farewell tour of Europe and the Middle East

In an arrival tweet posted Saturday, Pompeo highlighted the “shared values: democracy, freedom, and rule of law” between the US and France. “The strong relationship between our countries cannot be overestimated, and I’m looking forward to my discussions here in Paris,” he said.

Pompeo’s trip is aimed at shoring up the priorities of the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump, notably its anti-China and Iran policies. It will include visits to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, avoided by previous secretaries of state.

But the usual US foreign policy issues are likely to be overshadowed by an extraordinary moment in global politics: While most of the world has accepted the results of the November 3 presidential election, the top US diplomat – as well as the US president and much of his Republican Party – have not.

Pompeo raised eyebrows last week when, in response to a reporter’s question on the transition process, the top US diplomat replied, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Days later Pompeo tempered his remarks, noting that the State Department would be functional and successful with the president who takes office on January 20, 2021.

France, along with Germany, the UK and other European countries, congratulated Biden last weekend and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday held his first telephone conversation with the US president-elect.

Pompeo will see Macron on Monday in a meeting that will be conducted “in complete transparency towards the team of president-elect Joe Biden”, Macron’s office said Friday.

Tense relationship despite an initial outreach

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday said there were “difficult subjects” on the table, from the situation in Iraq and Iran, terrorism, the Middle East and China.

Responding to a question about Trump’s reported plans to hasten a US withdrawal from Afghanistan during a televised interview, Le Drian noted that, “We don’t think that should happen. We will also say that it shouldn’t happen in Iraq, either.”

Over the past four years, Macron has had a tense relationship with Trump despite initial attempts to woo each other with gestures of extravagance.

Shortly after Trump took office, Macron made the US president the guest of honor at a Bastille Day military parade. But Trump later pulled out of the Paris global climate accord, a blow to Macron.

The US also left the hard-won Iran nuclear accord, and Pompeo said in a tweet before departing on his trip that “Iran’s destabilizing behavior” would be among topics of discussion.

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

Strained relations with Turkey, Palestinians

After France, 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 Biden.

Turkey, Georgia and Qatar have had fractious relationships with the Trump administration, and it was not clear whether Pompeo planned public engagements with their leaders — or whether he would take questions from the press, with whom he has had a frosty relationship.

The administration’s relations with Turkey have been particularly strained after the NATO ally’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and Pompeo’s stop in Istanbul next week will not include meetings with Turkish officials. Instead, Pompeo will meet with religious leaders to highlight his promotion of religious freedom.

Palestinian officials, who have been snubbed by the Trump administration, have denounced Pompeo’s plans to visit the West Bank settlement of Psagot. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted on Friday that this was a “dangerous precedent” that legalises settlements.

In keeping with Trump’s refusal to concede, and orders for Cabinet agencies not to cooperate with the Biden transition team, the State Department has not been involved with facilitating Biden’s calls to foreign leaders, according to officials familiar with the process.

At a news conference Tuesday, Pompeo said he would carry on as if there was no change.

“I’m the secretary of state,” he said. “I’m getting calls from all across the world. These people are watching our election. They understand that we have a legal process. They understand that this takes time.”

Yet his French counterpart Le Drian has been looking toward the future, saying last Sunday in Cairo that “we will work with the new president of the United States and his team in the framework of new trans-Atlantic relations, we will need to re-found this.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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