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Pompeo visits Berlin, reveals differences, commonalities

Kate Brady Berlin
May 31, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with the German chancellor and foreign minister on his first Berlin visit. While Angela Merkel stressed close ties, differing views also became apparent.

Mike Pompeo and Angela Merkel
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Three weeks later than originally planned, the initial meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was kept brief and courteous on Friday, with back to back translations adding to formalities.

The visit comes amid strains in US-German ties caused by the isolationist stance of US President Donald Trump.

After disappearing behind closed doors, Merkel and Pompeo had 45 minutes to discuss a long list of issues, few of which Washington and Berlin see eye to eye on. Addressing media, however, Merkel reiterated that, despite the differences, the US remained Germany's "closest partner outside Europe."

Pompeo also called Germany "a big, important partner and ally for the United States," saying that both countries had important work to do to achieve security, peace and stability as far as possible.

Prior to meeting Merkel, Pompeo held talks earlier on Friday with his German counterpart, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Top of the agenda on the flying visit was the escalating tensions over Iran. Germany, like many of its European partners, remains skeptical of the Trump administration's hardline stance towards Iran — including its decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Maas said that Germany had "the same goals" as the US, i.e. to stop Tehran gaining nuclear weapons, but that it had "different approaches."

Germany is trying to rescue the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which foresaw a gradual lifting of sanctions if Tehran desisted from certain nuclear activities. After withdrawing from the deal, the US proceeded to put pressure on Iran with economic sanctions.

Concerning the sanctions, Pompeo said the US would not prevent Europeans from developing a system to shield companies from US sanctions if they deal with Iran — granted that the focus of the system is on providing humanitarian and other permitted goods.

Sanctions in the pipeline for Germany?

Other contentious issues at Friday's talks included the Nord Stream 2 project. The major gas pipeline would enable Russia to provide Germany with natural gas under the Baltic, and bypass Ukraine. The US has repeatedly criticized the plans, saying Europe's increased dependence on Russia for energy would pose a security issue.

Speaking in Berlin, however, Pompeo declined to comment on whether the US is likely to slap sanctions on German companies involved in Nord Stream 2.

"We never discuss sanctions before we roll them out," he said.

Mike Pompeo and Heiko Maas
Maas and Pompeo do not see eye to eye on all topics.Image: Imago Images/photothek

On the subject of 5G technology, Pompeo also reiterated calls from Washington to exclude telecommunications giant Chinese giant Huawei from helping develop 5G networks in Germany over security concerns. The US claims that China could use the infrastructure for espionage purposes.

Maas, however, said Germany has "high security standards" which all companies hoping to bid to build the new, high-speed internet network would have to fulfill.

Postponed visit irritates Berlin

Pompeo's first official visit to the German capital on Friday made up for a meeting that was called off at the last minute earlier this month, prompting more irritation from Berlin. Instead, Pompeo made an unannounced trip to Iraq to meet with officials in Baghdad.

Germany has frequently come under fire from Washington since Trump took office for allegedly taking advantage of the US on defense, leading to tensions between the two powers.

Following his brief encounter with Merkel on Friday, Pompeo was due to continue his five-day European tour, travelling on to neighboring Switzerland and the Netherlands, before meeting with US Donald Trump in the UK.

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