US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has begun an official visit to Germany. Relations between the NATO allies are at a low, but an recent announcement by one of Angela Merkel’s ministers seemed to nod to US complaints.
Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo arrived Thursday at the former border village of Mödlareuth in eastern Germany to meet with his German counterpart, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Pompeo’s two-day trip in Germany coincides with a week of events to mark to 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
During the Cold War, Mödlareuth was divided between East and West Germany, with one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world running through it for 28 years. Today, the village lies between the states of Thuringia and Bavaria.
Prior to meeting Maas, Pompeo met with US troops currently stationed in the Bavarian towns of Grafenwoehr and Vilseck to witness a live drill. The US has around 35,000 soldiers remaining in Germany.
‘Freedom and democracy connect us’
Despite a worsening of relations in recent months, Maas described the US early on Thursday as a reliable partner.
“We need them as a partner, because ultimately our values of democracy and freedom connect us,” he told German broadcast ZDF.
The western world as a whole will continue to depend on us “advocating these values around the world, together with the US,” Maas added.
Pompeo’s visit to Germany is his second since taking office in 2018, but Germany is far from unfamilar territory to the 70th US secretary of state. In the 1980s, Pompeo patrolled the Berlin Wall before serving as a tank commander at Bavarian base in what was then West Germany.
Later on Thursday, Pompeo moved on to Leipzig to meet with former East German opposition activists in Leipzig, whose protest helped lead to the fall of the Wall.
According to local media, one civil rights activist, Uwe Schwabe, refused to attend the meeting over “political concerns.”
“Current US foreign policy runs contrary to the goals for which demonstrators took to the streets in 1989,” Schwabe told local daily Leipziger Volkszeitung.
From Leipzig, Pompeo will travel to nearby Halle, where he will visit the site of the recent anti-Semitic attack, during which a neo-Nazi gunman killed two people in October after attempting and failing to enter a synagogue in order to carry out a mass shooting.
Max Privorozki, leader of the Jewish community in Halle, said Thursday that he had mixed feelings about Pompeo’s visit.
“We are tired,” Privorozki told German media. “Our job is actually to organize religious life and not to receive presidents and ministers,” he said, adding that Pompeo’s visit is “a great challenge, but also a great honor.”
Thorny issues in tense times
During his visit to Germany, Pompeo is expected raise several contentious issues, particularly during Friday’s meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.
Disagreements over defense spending, 5G technology and the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline have soured relations between the two NATO allies. The US is also threatening the EU with punitive tariffs, which could hit the German carmaking industry especially hard.
In a speech Thursday at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, Kramp-Karrenbauer noted that allies are increasingly asking for Berlin to play an active role in global security and pushed for Germany to do so.
“A country of our size, with our economic and technological power, our geostrategic position and global interests, cannot just stand on the sidelines and watch,” she said in Munich. “Germany must participate in international debates and drive them forward.”
Following talks with German leaders on Friday, Pompeo plans to leave Germany just before the actual anniversary of the fall of the Wall, but not before unveiling a new 7-foot (2.1-meter) statue of the late US President Ronald Reagan on the balcony of the US Embassy in Berlin.