May 31, 2019
By David Brunnstrom
BERLIN (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a five-day European trip on Friday with a delayed visit to Berlin, where he was expected to press Germany to boost its military spending, avoid dealings with China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and reconsider a pipeline project with Russia.
Pompeo will meet Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Chancellor Angela Merkel on a brief half-day stop. His visit had been scheduled earlier this month, but was called off at the last minute as tensions rose over Iran, another issue on which Berlin and Washington do not see eye to eye.
Pompeo will also visit Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain.
Speaking to reporters before heading to Berlin, Pompeo said Germany needed to do more to meet NATO military spending commitments of two percent of GDP.
“The president is not satisfied,” Pompeo said of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly complained that Germany and other NATO allies are not pulling their weight in the alliance.
“They need to come up with a plan to get there. We do need them to step up,” Pompeo said. “They’re an important, big economy inside of the EU, and we need them fully engaged and devoting adequate resources to the protection of Europe.”
Pompeo said Huawei, which Washington sees as a threat to NATO security, would be an issue at each stop in Europe.
“Everywhere I go, we talk about the opportunities and challenges that China presents not only to the United States and its security but to countries around the world. So it will be a topic,” he said.
Washington has told allies not to use Huawei’s 5G technology and equipment because of fears it would allow China to spy on sensitive communications and data.
Pompeo said he would also discuss Iran, an issue on which the Trump administration has split with Germany and other European allies by withdrawing from a 2015 international nuclear deal.
Washington has tightened sanctions on Tehran with the aim of pushing it to make concessions beyond the terms of that deal and this month deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East after what it called indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
A senior German diplomat was in Tehran last week for meetings to try to preserve the nuclear deal and a German government spokeswoman said Merkel would stress to Pompeo that tensions with Iran must be resolved peacefully.
Pompeo said Iran was behind attacks on four tankers off the UAE coast this month, which were “efforts by Iranians to raise the price of crude oil around the world”.
Trump said on Monday he was hopeful Iran would come to the negotiating table, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran would not negotiate with Washington even after President Hassan Rouhani signalled talks might be possible if sanctions were lifted.
In Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran, including U.S. citizens detained in the country, Pompeo will meet Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and attend the Bilderberg conference, a secretive meeting of U.S. and European officials and business leaders being held this year in Montreux.
In Germany, Pompeo is also expected to air U.S. concerns about the Nordstream 2 pipeline, which will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in transporting gas to Europe. Trump has warned Western firms invested in the project they risk sanctions.
Germany has said it remains committed to the project, which involves five European energy companies – Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, Anglo-Dutch group Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Engie and Austria’s OMV.
Pompeo’s aides also said they were looking into a South Korean newspaper report that North Korea had executed its nuclear envoy to the United States as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and Trump.
The aides said they had no confirmation or definitive information.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)