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Pompeo confirms Israel trip, vows ‘smooth transition’… to second Trump term

US secretary of state unveils swing through 7 countries — all of whom have congratulated Biden. Tour includes visit to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, in Mideast peace push

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo removes his facemask as he arrives for a media briefing on November 10, 2020, at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo removes his facemask as he arrives for a media briefing on November 10, 2020, at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday announced a seven-nation tour of US allies, all of which have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden despite Donald Trump’s refusal to concede.

Pompeo said he will leave Friday for Paris and then head to Istanbul and the former Soviet republic of Georgia before visiting Jerusalem and three key Gulf Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The trip will discuss Trump’s “historic efforts to forge peace and cooperation throughout the Middle East,” Pompeo told reporters.

The trip will likely be awkward, as Trump has denied that he lost last week’s election and his administration has refused to start the transition to Biden, who will be inaugurated on January 20.

“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo said in an at-times testy news conference when asked about contacts with the Biden team.

“The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today… with the president who is in office on January 20 a minute after noon will be successful,” he said, referring to the date of the presidential inauguration.

US President-elect Joe Biden waves to supporters as he leaves the Queen theater after receiving a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board on November 9, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

World leaders, including almost all US allies, have congratulated Biden, who has achieved unassailable leads in key states as well as a commanding edge in the nationwide popular vote.

France, which like many European nations had strained relations with Trump, swiftly voiced hope of working with Biden, who shares French priorities on fighting climate change, cooperating in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuing diplomacy with Iran.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — all friends of Trump — have also congratulated Biden.

The Democrat has pledged to place a higher priority on human rights and democracy, calling for a reevaluation of the relationship with Saudi Arabia and for support of Turkey’s opposition.

Pompeo on his trip is expected to discuss raising further pressure on Iran in the remaining two months of the Trump administration, which in 2018 bolted from a multinational denuclearization accord with Tehran and imposed punishing unilateral sanctions.

Israel and Gulf Arabs have seen growing relations as they share the Trump administration’s hostility to Iran.

In September, both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said they would recognize the Jewish state and Trump had pressed Saudi Arabia to follow suit. Sudan has also said it will normalize relations with Israel.

President Donald Trump, center, with (from left) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

While Pompeo has been a frequent visitor in the Middle East, it will be his first solo trip to Paris; his only other trip was when he joined Trump for the 2018 ceremony marking the centennial of the end of World War I.

Pompeo has mocked the last Democratic secretary of state, John Kerry, for his frequent travels to Paris, telling a conservative group earlier this year that he was not interested in “fancy dinners” and “cocktails.”

Pompeo will also be the first secretary of state since Kerry to visit the country of Georgia.

Like the United States, Georgia recently held elections that were disputed, with the opposition saying the vote was rigged and staging protests.

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