PARIS — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took part Monday in a wreath-laying ceremony honoring victims of recent terrorist attacks, in his first public appearance here in Paris since arriving Saturday morning at the start of a whirlwind tour.
America’s top diplomat will also visit Turkey, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The trip, which is among the longest of Pompeo’s tenure at the State Department, appears intended to highlight the Trump administration’s foreign-policy successes — advocacy for international religious freedom, recent normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries, and the toughening of U.S. policy toward Iran — as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
The Trump campaign continues to contest the election results in some states, however, and Pompeo himself sparked controversy last week when he said at a State Department press conference that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” In subsequent interviews, he clarified there will be a smooth transition for whomever is elected, remaining coy about the election results despite Trump’s severely limited avenues for challenging the outcome in court.
Pompeo on Monday also met with French president Emmanuel Macron — who congratulated Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, his running mate, soon after major media outlets called the race — in addition to his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
A small press contingent covered the wreath-laying ceremony, but Pompeo’s meetings with Macron and Le Drian were conducted behind closed doors and without a press conference, capping off a relatively low-key first leg of this trip.
The pandemic has made it difficult to hold the type of press conferences that normally follow Pompeo’s meetings with foreign leaders. France is currently under a nationwide lockdown following a recent spike in coronavirus cases, and to leave their homes, people must present a special document justifying their movements outside.
Although Pompeo tweeted Saturday that he held a discussion on “global challenges” such as terrorism and the pandemic with the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, a Macron-aligned think tank, that gathering was closed to the press as well. He participated in no publicly scheduled events on Sunday.
This has also meant that during this leg of the trip, Pompeo has not publicly faced and answered questions about the election and U.S. relations with France, which despite an early Trump-Macron bromance have deteriorated over disagreements about NATO, additional multilateral arrangements such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and other topics. Ahead of their meeting, Le Drian told France’s BFMTV that “there are plenty of difficult subjects to evoke together.”
Still, Pompeo and Le Drian “emphasized the importance of the Transatlantic alliance and our shared goal of NATO unity,” said Cale Brown, a State Department spokesperson, in a statement following their meeting.
Pompeo also pushed some additional U.S. foreign policy priorities in his meetings Monday, such as the need to combat the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and human rights abuses, as well as the destabilizing activities of Iran and Hezbollah.
In appearing in Paris at this time, Pompeo has demonstrated that the fundamentals of the Franco-American alliance remain strong, particularly in the face of global challenges spanning the COVID-19 pandemic and terrorist violence that has hit France in recent weeks — including an attack at a church in Nice that killed three in late October.