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Pompeo sets off for 1st Africa trip, visits security summit in Germany

By
Don Jacobson
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks off his plane in Munich, Germany, on Friday to attend a security conference ahead of his visit to three African nations. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State/Mike Pompeo/Twitter
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks off his plane in Munich, Germany, on Friday to attend a security conference ahead of his visit to three African nations. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State/Mike Pompeo/Twitter

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa Friday, where he will aid efforts to compete with the growing influence of China and fight threats of terrorism.

After a stopover in Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference, Pompeo departed to visit Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia over a five-day period.

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Scheduled first are weekend meetings with Senegalese President Macky Sall and Foreign Minister Amadou Ba in Dakar, to be followed by talks with Angolan President Joao Lourenco and Foreign Minister Manuel Augusto Monday in Luanda.

Pompeo will then meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde in Addis Ababa on Tuesday and Wednesday, when he will also hold talks with African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat.

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After the final African stop, President Donald Trump's chief diplomat will travel to the Middle East to visit Arab allies Saudi Arabia and Oman to discuss bilateral issues, including Iran, Yemen and human rights.

During his trip Friday, Pompeo posted a photo of weapons seized by U.S. authorities that he said were headed for Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"The U.S. Navy interdicted 358 Iranian-made missiles [and] other weapons components," he tweeted. "This is another example of the world's largest state sponsor of terror the Islamic Republic of Iran continuing to defy the U.N. Security Council."

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Pompeo's visit to the African nations comes at a time of growing Chinese influence in the region, especially in Angola, where Beijing has promised to invest as much as $10 billion in industry, agriculture and scientific research.

U.S. State Department officials, however, said Pompeo will promote "U.S. engagement with these African countries and why the United States is a phenomenal partner for Africa." The department seeks, for example, to expand economic ties with Angola.

Another common theme of the African trip is expected to focus on security and the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism, especially in the Sahel region. U.S. officials said Pompeo plans to praise Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia as "major contributors to regional stability" and work to support their leaders and anti-terror efforts of the African Union.

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At the security conference in Munich, Pompeo was prompted to defend Trump's "America first" foreign policy.

"Our closest ally, the United States of America, under the current administration, rejects the very concept of the international community," German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. "'Great again' but at the expense of neighbors and partners.

"Thinking and acting this way hurts us all."

Trump has repeatedly criticized certain NATO members who have not met the bloc's 2014 guideline of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic economy on defense. Germany is one of 19 members who have not met the threshold.

"We are paying 4 to 4.3 percent when Germany's paying 1 to 1.2 percent at max of a much smaller GDP," Trump said at a NATO meeting in December. "That's not fair."

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