Pompeo to Travel to Mediterranean Countries and Vatican to Bolster Ties, Promote Religious Freedom

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel next week to Greece, Italy, the Holy See and Croatia in a bid to shore up bilateral ties and promote religious freedom.

In Greece, Mr. Pompeo will undertake measures to improve economic ties and security cooperation between the nations. The secretary and Greek officials will sign a memorandum of understanding on science and technology.

While the top U.S. diplomat’s visit to Greece last October was limited to Athens, Mr. Pompeo next week will visit both Thessaloniki, home to Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, and Crete, home to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. On Crete, Mr. Pompeo will visit U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay.

The trip will be the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Thessaloniki, which a senior department official described as a “gateway to the Balkans in terms of investment and trade.”

Mr. Pompeo also will host a gathering of leaders in the energy sector—part of a Trump administration bid to enhance Greece’s energy independence.

The state department official didn’t say whether Mr. Pompeo would play a mediating role in the continuing maritime dispute between Greece and Turkey, but said the U.S. urges de-escalation and is encouraged by a Sept. 22 announcement that the countries had resumed exploratory talks.

Asked whether the U.S. government would offer assistance to the victims of recent fires at refugee camps in Greece, or might accept some refugees, the official said the administration and its allies are “assessing the needs” in the aftermath.

The official didn’t answer a question on whether the secretary’s wife, Susan Pompeo, would accompany him on the tour. Mrs. Pompeo’s inclusion on taxpayer-funded official trips has been criticized by Democrats in Congress who say Mrs. Pompeo’s travel is an inappropriate use of public resources.

On Sept. 30, Mr. Pompeo will travel to Rome for meetings with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

The official said Messrs. Pompeo, Conte and Di Maio are likely to discuss the situation in Libya, with the U.S. offering diplomatic support and stating that there is no military solution to the conflict between the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli and a rival faction headed by militia leader Khalifa Haftar.

In Vatican City, Mr. Pompeo will meet with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and its foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

The secretary will address the Holy See Symposium on Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom through Diplomacy. During a visit to Vatican City last October, Mr. Pompeo spoke at a symposium on work with religious organizations.

Mr. Pompeo isn’t scheduled to have an audience with Pope Francis during this visit; he met with the pontiff last October.

On Oct. 2, Mr. Pompeo is slated to visit Croatia for meetings with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić-Radman and Defense Minister Mario Banožić. The discussions are expected to focus on defense cooperation, increased U.S. investment in Croatia, and efforts to further integrate the Western Balkan states into the European Union.

The State Department official acknowledged progress Croatia has made toward meeting the requirements for inclusion in the U.S. visa-waiver program, but declined to predict an outcome.

Write to Courtney McBride at [email protected]

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