US sec'y of state begins difficult 7-nation tour in France

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, and his wife Susan, right, embrace U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt, left, after stepping off a plane at Paris Le Bourget Airport, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Le Bourget, France. Pompeo is beginning a 10-day trip to Europe and the Middle East. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

PARIS – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed “global challenges” with a handful of members of a Paris think tank Saturday at the start of a seven-country tour of Europe and the Middle East, travels that were certain to be awkward since all the nations on his schedule have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden for winning the White House.

Pompeo was an all but invisible U.S. envoy on what may be his last official trip to France, tweeting out news of his arrival and from his private meeting with members of the Institut Montaigne, accompanied by photos.

The trip is aimed at shoring up the priorities of the outgoing administration of 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 the issues.

In his latest tweet, Pompeo said he addressed “the global challenges we are facing today, from terrorism to the COVID-19 pandemic” with Institut Montaigne representatives. The independent think tank says it promotes “a balanced vision of society, in which open and competitive markets go hand in hand with equality of opportunity and social cohesion.”

Pompeo arrived to a France in lockdown to fight a second wave of the coronavirus. In contrast to the few people seated around him, he did not wear a mask.

Pompeo may find himself doing heavy-lifting on Monday, when he is scheduled to meet French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and President Emmanuel Macron. According to Macron's office, the French president spoke with Biden by phone four days ago and conveyed his desire to work together in areas such as climate change, terrorism and health.

For the outgoing secretary of state and the French officials, Monday's meetings will be a delicate demarche on tough issues.