The Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo, yesterday canceled at the last second the trip to Europe that he had planned to make this Wednesday, in which he expected to meet with Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, whose headquarters are in Brussels, and with the Belgian Foreign Minister, Sophie Wilmès. From the White House they allege a sudden overload of work related to the current change underway in the Administration. In Europe, the feeling is that the refusal of various politicians to keep an appointment with Pompeo after the assault on the Capitol could have been the cause.
The US State Department explained yesterday, through a statement, that "all the trips planned for this week", including Pompeo's, had been canceled due to the process of transfer of powers between the outgoing Administration of Donald Trump and that of the president-elect, Joe Biden. "We are fully committed to the completion of a smooth and orderly transition process that will take place in the next eight days," the statement said.
Pompeo's scheduled agenda was strangely short from the start: it did not include any of the top EU officials, as has happened on previous visits. The flight over the Atlantic ended up being canceled after the refusal to have a confrontation with the American on the part of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, according to Reuters. After the assault on the Capitol, Asselborn came to describe the president of the United States, Donald Trump, as "a criminal, a political arsonist who should be tried."
"The fact that not many Europeans were willing to meet with the secretary seems to have played an important role [in canceling the trip]," says a diplomatic source in the EU. "Maybe your team misjudged and at some point they just realized that their visit would be difficult after what happened on Capitol Hill," speculates another. A diplomat quoted by Reuters assured that they felt "ashamed" with the presence of Pompeo.
The European Commission assured yesterday through a spokesman that none of the members of the College of Commissioners nor the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, had scheduled an appointment with Pompeo, although he refused to go into detail about the requests they receive and the answers they give to them. "The fact is that there is no planned meeting," said this spokesman. Borrell's department referred directly to Washington to answer questions: "We didn't cancel anything."
Pompeo, one of Trump's loyal squires, who has also fed without evidence the idea of alleged electoral fraud and even spoke of a peaceful transition “towards a second Trump Administration” shortly after the elections, is an uncomfortable character in Brussels. In a speech he gave in the European capital in 2018, during a visit to NATO, the Secretary of State praised the isolationist vision of his boss while criticizing the role of "multilateralism" and "bureaucrats."
With the EU already focused on a new transatlantic relationship that leaves behind the tensions with Washington of the last four years, the disagreements about the role of NATO and multilateral organizations, and the lack of cooperation on issues ranging from climate change to pandemic, coupled with the tragic episode at the end of Trump's term, the strange thing would have been that Pompeo's visit to Europe had been surrounded by pomp and pageantry. The EU has repeatedly expressed that it is eager to get down to business with Joe Biden.
Pompeo's cancellation has not been the only one in the last few hours; Several senior US officials also suddenly changed agendas due to concerns that foreign adversaries could exploit the political crisis and the fact that both the outgoing president and the rest of the White House are under too much pressure as to deal with these potential threats, according to Bloomberg. Among these cancellations is that of Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, who had planned to fly to Taiwan on Wednesday, immediately unleashing the ire of China, a country that claims the autonomous island as part of its territory.