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Pompeo cancels trip to Europe as EU top officials decline meetings

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BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled his Europe trip at the last minute on Tuesday after top European Union officials declined to meet him, European diplomats and other people familiar with the matter said.

The extraordinary snub to Washington came days after the storming of U.S. Capitol by thousands of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, an unprecedented attack on American democracy that stunned many world leaders and U.S. allies.

Pompeo, a close ally of Trump, had sought to also meet Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn in Luxembourg, a small but wealthy NATO ally, before meeting EU leaders and the bloc’s top diplomat in Brussels, three people close to the planning told Reuters.

Pompeo had originally planned to go to Luxembourg, but that leg of the trip was scrapped, one diplomatic source said, after officials there showed reluctance to grant him appointments. The Brussels leg was still on until the last minute.

But Pompeo’s final visit schedule in Brussels was not going to involve any meetings with the EU or any public events at NATO. A third diplomatic source said allies were “embarrassed” by Pompeo after the violence in Washington last week.

Luxembourg’s foreign ministry confirmed the previously planned stop there was now cancelled, but declined to give further details. The EU declined to comment.

Appalled by the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 U.S. election, Asselborn had called Trump a “criminal” and a “political pyromaniac” on RTL Radio the next day.

The U.S. State Department, in a statement, attributed the cancellation to transition work before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, even if until recently Pompeo had been reluctant to unequivocally recognise Biden’s win. The State Department declined further comment on European officials’ rejection of meetings with Pompeo.

In Brussels, Pompeo was due to have a private dinner with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday evening at Stoltenberg’s private residence, before meeting Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes, whose country is a NATO ally.

The cold shoulder was a contrast with Pompeo’s previous visits to Brussels, which is home to NATO and EU headquarters, over the past three years, where he has given key-note speeches on U.S. policy and met the EU’s chief executive, even as Europe balked at Trump’s foreign policy.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin; editing by Grant McCool)

Photo US State Secretary Mike Pompeo at a press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Old Town Hall in Leipzig, Germany, 07 November 2019. Pompeo is in Germany ahead of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the collapse of the communist East German government in 1989 and the eventual reunification of East and West Germany. Pompeo served in the U.S. armed forces and was a tank commander stationed in West Germany. EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER

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