Pom­peo vis­it­ing five na­tions in Europe

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - International - MATTHEW LEE Pom­peo

U.S. fears about China and Rus­sia’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Cen­tral Europe will top Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s agenda in the re­gion this week.

Pom­peo was sched­uled to leave Sun­day on a five-na­tion tour of Europe. In Hun­gary and Slo­vakia, he is sched­uled to stress the im­por­tance of pro­mot­ing democ­racy and the rule of law to counter Bei­jing and Mos­cow’s ef­forts to pull the coun­tries away from the West and sow di­vi­sions in the Euro­pean Union and NATO.

The cen­ter­piece of the trip will be a con­fer­ence on the fu­ture of the Mid­dle East in Poland on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day that is ex­pected to fo­cus on Iran and will also be at­tended by Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mideast peace team: se­nior ad­viser and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, and spe­cial en­voy for in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions Ja­son Green­blatt.

But in Bu­da­pest and Bratislava to­day and Tues­day, Pom­peo will specif­i­cally point to is­sues re­lated to Cen­tral Europe’s re­liance on Rus­sian en­ergy and the pres­ence of the Chi­nese high­tech tele­com firm Huawei, par­tic­u­larly in Hun­gary, ac­cord­ing to Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, who were not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss Pom­peo’s travel and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. U.S. of­fi­cials are deeply trou­bled by the ex­pan­sion of Huawei, which they be­lieve poses sig­nif­i­cant in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity threats.

The of­fi­cials said Pom­peo hoped to re­verse what they called a decade of U.S. dis­en­gage­ment in Cen­tral Europe that cre­ated a vac­uum that Rus­sia and China have ex­ploited. Over the course of the past 10 years, the of­fi­cials said, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Chi­nese lead­ers have be­come much more ag­gres­sive in the re­gion and mak­ing in­roads.

One of­fi­cial said Pom­peo would “look for ar­eas of shared in­ter­est that have been ne­glected in the re­cent past” in or­der to “wrong­foot the West’s ri­vals in places where they have gained bridge­heads.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has made a point of reach­ing out to Hun­gary’s Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban, who shares Trump’s strong stance on lim­it­ing mi­gra­tion and has adopted in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian mea­sures, in­clud­ing crack­ing down on the op­po­si­tion, la­bor unions, in­de­pen­dent me­dia and academia.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had largely steered clear of Or­ban, who won a third con­sec­u­tive term last year in a cam­paign based on anti-im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies and whose poli­cies have been met with street protests and deep­en­ing con­cern within the EU.

Hu­man-rights groups and oth­ers have lamented Pom­peo’s plans to meet with Or­ban.

“Sec­re­tary Pom­peo needs to treat this trip not as a friendly meet­ing be­tween al­lies, but as an op­por­tu­nity to have a frank con­ver­sa­tion with a state in­creas­ingly at odds with both Amer­i­can in­ter­ests and its hu­man-rights obli­ga­tions,” Hu­man Rights First said in a state­ment. “At the same time that he’s rolling back Hun­gary’s post-Cold War demo­cratic gains, Or­ban is mak­ing in­creas­ingly clear where his strate­gic affini­ties lie by cozy­ing up to the Krem­lin.”

The U.S. of­fi­cials de­fended the Bu­da­pest stop, say­ing it is im­pos­si­ble to press the U.S. po­si­tions and in­ter­ests in Hun­gary ef­fec­tively with­out meet­ing Or­ban.

“We have to show up or ex­pect to lose,” one of­fi­cial said. The of­fi­cial added that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has seen “the re­sults of lack of U.S. en­gage­ment in the re­gion” and “we want to step up that diplo­matic en­gage­ment.” The of­fi­cial also noted that Putin had vis­ited Hun­gary twice last year and that Pom­peo would meet civic lead­ers, some of whom have been crit­i­cal of Or­ban.

In Bratislava, Pom­peo will meet Slo­vak of­fi­cials on sim­i­lar is­sues and also to pay his re­spects to the hun­dreds of peo­ple who died at­tempt­ing to es­cape from the com­mu­nist for­mer Cze­choslo­vakia to Aus­tria dur­ing the Cold War, the of­fi­cials said. In ad­di­tion, the State Depart­ment said Pom­peo will also ad­dress stu­dents about the im­por­tance of “the legacy of Western demo­cratic free­dom and its tri­umph over Com­mu­nism.”

Af­ter the Mideast con­fer­ence in War­saw, Pom­peo will wrap up his trip with stops in Brus­sels and Rek­jaivik, Ice­land, on Fri­day.

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