WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is energizing its campaign to counter China’s growing global influence as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Europe this week on a four-nation trip that will also highlight disputes with Russia over Venezuela and elsewhere as well as deep U.S. isolation on the cause and impact of climate change.
With China seeking a greater presence throughout the continent, U.S. officials said Pompeo will renew warnings over the use of advanced Chinese telecommunications technology as well as blunt Beijing’s aspirations to play a significant role in the Arctic, a region that is rapidly opening up to development and commerce as temperatures warm and sea ice melts. He departs on Sunday just hours after President Donald Trump threatened to boost tariffs on Chinese imports amid the slow pace of trade negotiations.
Despite an apparent internal administration disconnect over Russia’s role in the crisis in Venezuela, Pompeo plans to make Moscow’s support for embattled President Nicolas Maduro a major theme of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday in Finland, where they will both attend a meeting of the Arctic Council.
“I’ll certainly bring up Venezuela,” Pompeo said Sunday. “It will be one of many topics that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I speak about. Whether there is a particular deal that can be reached, only time will tell.”
The Arctic Council meeting itself is likely to be dominated by concerns about the Trump administration’s climate policies that many believe are focused solely on exploiting its resources and pushing back on Russia and China for strategic and security reasons at the expense of the region’s delicate environment.
At his next stops in Germany and Britain, officials said Pompeo would sound the alarm over Chinese tech giant Huawei’s efforts to expand into Europe, reiterating U.S. concerns that China’s government could use the firm to get access to private personal and commercial data and compromise NATO and allied intelligence operations.
In Berlin in meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the officials said he would again highlight opposition to Germany’s support for the Russian-backed NordStream 2 gas pipeline that Washington believes will increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
In London, where British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are struggling to grapple with an impasse over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, Pompeo plans to deliver a speech extolling the virtues of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. Officials said he would also be laying the groundwork for Trump’s state visit to Britain this summer and renewing America’s interest in sealing a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement once Brexit has been completed.
Pompeo will see Lavrov in Rovaniemi, Finland on Monday, following a week in which he and Trump national security adviser John Bolton ramped up criticism of Russia and Cuba for propping up Maduro in the face of a U.S.-backed challenge to his leadership from opposition leader Juan Guaido.
But the meeting also comes just three days after Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a lengthy telephone call about the state of relations following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Trump has rejected any suggestion that his campaign colluded with Russia or tried to obstruct the investigation. But he also dialed back on Pompeo and Bolton’s Venezuela complaints, saying Putin didn’t want to get involved in Venezuela.
Pompeo disputed the apparent discrepancy in interviews with three morning television talk shows on Sunday, saying that both Cuba and Russia both need to leave Venezuela. “No, no difference. No difference. The President has said ... that the Russians must leave Venezuela,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” ″We want everyone out, so that the Venezuelan people can get the democracy they deserve. That includes Mr. Maduro leaving.”
Other than Venezuela, U.S. officials said Pompeo would also raise with Lavrov Russia’s intervention in Syria and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, subjects of perennial discussion with Moscow.
On the Arctic, officials said Pompeo would stress the administration’s insistence on using the forum to promote U.S. economic growth despite risks to the region. Trump announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate accord in one of his first foreign policy decisions as president and Pompeo acknowledged to ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that American negotiators had fought to remove references to the Paris agreement from the Arctic Council’s final communique that is to be released on Tuesday.
Officials said Pompeo would laud U.S. reductions in greenhouse gas emissions despite leaving the Paris agreement, although critics argue those reductions are the result of policies enacted before Trump took office and could be reversed. At the same time, officials said Pompeo would reject Chinese attempts to play any kind of decision-making role in the Arctic Council, a group that includes as full members only the eight nations that border the region. Chinese officials have recently begun referring to their country as a “near Arctic” state, a term that has alarmed Americans and others.
Arctic policy will also be a focus of Pompeo’s final stop of the trip, Greenland, where he will meet U.S.-funded scientists and others engaged in studying the impact of climate change in the region.
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