French President Emmanuel Macron has met Monday with US President Donald Trump’s top diplomat behind closed doors in a potentially uncomfortable encounter only nine days after having congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his election victory.
Macron’s office said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first met with French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Elysee presidential palace, then met with Macron himself.
Neither side said much in advance about Pompeo’s low-profile visit to Paris, the starting point of a seven-country tour of Europe and the Middle East.
The purposes of Pompeo’s three-day visit to Paris in the midst of the pandemic appeared unclear. Macron’s office described Pompeo’s planned stop Monday at the presidential Elysee Palace as a “courtesy” visit.
No press conference was scheduled, seemingly ruling out the likelihood of journalists getting to ask Pompeo or Macron about their conflicting visions of the US election outcome.
Officials in Pompeo’s team said French authorities told them that no press access was possible due to concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic. Paris is under a partial lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Pompeo has not accepted Trump’s election defeat. Macron has spoken by phone last week with Biden to congratulate him.
Pompeo’s trip is aimed at shoring up the priorities of Trump’s outgoing administration.
In an arrival tweet Saturday in France, he laid out the standard diplomatic groundwork for his Paris talks, noting that France is the “oldest friend and Ally” of the United States. “The strong relationship between our countries cannot be overestimated,” he tweeted.
From Paris, Pompeo was expected to travel to Turkey.
No meeting with Turkish officials were scheduled during the brief visit to Istanbul, a senior State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly about Pompeo’s agenda said last week.
The stop in Turkey will focus on promoting religious freedom and fighting religious persecution, which is a key priority for the U.S. administration, the official said.
Pompeo will discuss religious issues with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, considered the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, and with the apostolic nuncio to Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
The trip will also include visits to Israeli settlements in the West Bank that have been avoided by previous secretaries of state.
Before the scheduled meetings with Macron and his foreign minister, Pompeo laid a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers at a memorial to victims of terrorism at a Paris landmark, the Hotel des Invalides.
The ceremony lasted about a minute.