Pompeo Meets US Troops

Pompeo Meets US Troops

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with American troops in southern Germany on Thursday, starting a trip based around the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in an area where he served as an Army officer during the Cold War.

Pompeo, who served as a tank platoon leader on the border with Czechoslovakia and East Germany in the 1980s, chatted with troops at the Grafenwoehr training area and nearby Vilseck and attended a live-fire exercise before heading north to meet up with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the town of Moedlareuth.

During the Cold War, Moedlareuth was split down the middle by the border between East and West Germany, with the southern part in Bavaria and the northern part in Thuringia, a partition that gave rise to its nickname, "Little Berlin."

Hundreds of thousands of Americans were stationed in West Germany during the Cold War, and the country was one of the U.S.'s closest allies. That relationship continued after the Nov. 9, 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, but ties have become strained recently under the presidency of Donald Trump over a series of issues.

In talks with Maas and Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pompeo is expected to discuss growing U.S. concerns about economic and strategic threats from Russia, China and Iran. He is expected to reiterate U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which had been staunchly supported by Germany and Russia, according to American officials.

The pipeline project got a boost last week, when Danish regulators dropped environmental objections to a portion that would go through its waters. The plan to transport natural gas about 1,200-kilometers (746-miles) through the Baltic Sea from Russia to Europe has come under fire from the Trump administration and several European countries, who argue that it will increase Europe's dependence on Russia for energy.

In advance of next month's NATO leaders' meeting in London, Pompeo is expected to raise U.S. expectations that Germany will deliver on a pledge that all allies made to boost defense spending.

En route, however, Pompeo sounded a conciliatory note, tweeting that Germany is "one of America's most trusted friends, an important ally, and a close partner in our engagement with Europe and the world."

"Looking forward to constructive conversations on how we can work together to address many critical global issues," he added.

Pompeo is visiting five German cities on the two-day trip. In Berlin, he will deliver a speech highlighting the U.S. role in helping eastern and central Europe "throw off the yoke of communism," according to the U.S. State Department.

He will also unveil a statue of Ronald Reagan on an upper-level terrace of the U.S. Embassy, overlooking the site in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate where the Berlin Wall once stood and the former president gave his famous 1987 speech beseeching then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "open this gate" and "tear down this wall."

Other stops Thursday include a visit to the site of the attack on a synagogue in Halle and the city of Leipzig, where mass protests set the ball rolling which led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.