BERLIN | Stark transatlantic disagreements over Iran and China loomed heavily over high-level meetings between U.S. and German officials here Friday, even as visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that the Trump administration views Germany as “a great, important partner and ally.”
Mr. Pompeo told reporters that he pressed in closed-door discussions with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas how seriously the Trump administration views the threat of Chinese 5G technology companies seeking to build Europe’s next generation of telecommunications networks, saying Chinese firms such as Huawei offer Beijing a backdoor to soak up sensitive information flows across the continent.
President Trump’s recent blacklisting of Huawei and other Chinese firms from the U.S. should be studied by Germany and others in Europe as an example of how to ensure that sensitive intelligence “doesn’t end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Pompeo said.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” the secretary of state said at a press conference with Mr. Maas, adding the Trump administration is on a mission to “make sure that we educate our friends about these risks as well.”
While German officials “will make their own sovereign decisions” on Chinese telecom firms, Mr. Pompeo suggested Washington will be forced to limit sensitive digital information-sharing if Berlin allows Huawei a prominent role in Germany’s 5G network.
Mr. Pompeo warned that there is a chance that “we’ll have to change our behavior in light of the fact that we can’t permit private citizen data from the United States or national security data from the United States to go across networks that … we don’t view as trusted networks.”
Germany is currently locked in its own internal political debate on whether or not to ban Huawei and other Chinese firms, a move some in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government say could trigger a major fight with Beijing within the World Trade Organization.
Mr. Maas said Friday that Berlin is “following the debate … very closely.”
He told reporters Germany has already “taken the decision to clearly define security requirements when it comes to 5G licenses” issued to foreign firms, including those from China. Berlin is “not going to be ready and willing to allow companies to participate who are not willing to comply,” he said.
The German foreign minister went on suggest there’s is a bigger issue at play in the future the WTO and whether its dispute-resolving mechanisms can deal with China’s rise as a global economic power.
“We need to reform the WTO, especially with an eye to China, because the WTO works on the basis of market economic principles which are contradicted by the structures in China,” said Mr. Maas. He added that he had raised the issue with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on a recent U.S. visit and believes Washington and European Union officials are “in agreement.”
But it remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will throw its weight behind a WTO reform push or pursue a more immediate strategy of pressuring individual nations directly to join the U.S. pressure campaign, bypassing the slow, bureaucratic WTO processes.
Despite the tensions, Mr. Pompeo went to lengths Friday to praise the U.S.-Germany alliance, even as the two nations disagree on a range of fronts — most notably on Iran and the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that Germany and other European powers are desperate to preserve.
Mr. Pompeo, who also held a private meeting with Mrs. Merkel Friday, suggested Germany’s success in the post-World War II era is personal for him, especially this year as the world marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“It is special to be here as we commemorate one of the 20th century’s great triumphs of freedom,” the secretary of state said. “I was a young tank commander stationed here. I patrolled, as part of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the then-East German-West German boundary. … It will be remarkable when I come back in the fall to stand here 30 years later, a little bit grayer than I was when I was a young lieutenant, and celebrate with the people of Germany.”
“The German people continue to show just how much they prize security and how much they prize freedom for their own people, indeed for the world,” he said.
Disagreement on Iran
Mr. Pompeo’s European swing, concluding in Britain when he joins President Trump on his state visit, is part of a larger U.S. attempt to tamp down fears of a military escalation between Washington and Iran.
Mr. Maas told reporters that Germany remains determined to hold the Obama-era nuclear deal together, even as Washington increases its push to isolate Iran and pressure Tehran toward negotiating an entirely new deal that addresses not only nuclear issues, but Iranian missile provocations and support for militant proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.
German officials say they broadly agree such Iranian activities should be contained, but Mr. Maas suggested the Merkel government is firm in its belief that the Trump administration erred in pulling out of the nuclear deal. The U.N.’s watchdog agency that monitors the pact said Friday that Iran continues to live up to its nuclear commitments under the deal, although there are worrying signs Tehran is reviving parts of its nuclear infrastructure, the Associated Press reported.
“We agree on that we have to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons,” Mr. Maas said Friday. “[But] it’s no secret that we have differences with regard to the right approach to pursue.”
Mr. Trump has expressed willingness to talk directly with Iran, prompting speculation that Mr. Pompeo will use his current travel — a trip that includes a two-day stop in Switzerland, which is America’s protecting power in Iran — to open a back-channel for direct dialogue with Tehran.
The Associated Press noted Friday that Mr. Pompeo’s Iran-related diplomacy has already taken him to Iraq, Britain, Belgium and Russia since early May, when tensions flared after U.S. allegations of increased threats from Iran that have now led to additional military deployments and accusations that Iranian proxies sabotaged oil tankers in the Gulf and conducted drone attacks in Saudi Arabia.
During his press conference in Berlin Friday, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. was eager to work with Germany and other European nations on Iran, despite disagreements on strategy. Most notably, he said Washington won’t stand in the way of a system the Europeans are developing to shield companies dealing with Iran from American financial sanctions — so long as the system, known as INSTEX, provides only humanitarian and other goods not subject to U.S. sanctions.
“When we think about INSTEX, if it’s aimed at facilitating the movement of goods that are authorized to move,” said Mr. Pompeo, “[that] is unproblematic.”
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