ROME – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not meet with Pope Francis, but said he had very constructive talks with Vatican Foreign Minister and some other senior prelates on Thursday – less than two weeks after criticizing plans for the Vatican to renew an agreement with China on church operations. .
Pompeo spoke positively about the meeting in an interview with Fox News, and the Vatican also made positive comments on the tone of the meeting.
But there had been some controversy prior to his visit. A longtime journalist in Rome told Fox News that he did not remember witnessing such a rift between the United States and the Holy See for at least the past 20 years.
Prior to his arrival in Italy, Pompeo wrote an article tweeting criticism and concern over the Vatican renewing the agreement with China. Many analysts saw it as a sale to the Communist Party, while others saw it as the only way to engage the Chinese Catholic Church and prevent it from being completely underground. Those outside the walls of the Vatican are not familiar with the details of the agreement, but it is understood that even if it would allow the Vatican to say about the appointment of bishops in China, it has not stopped the persecution of Catholics there.
Some in the Vatican expressed that they were miffed Pompeo aired these concerns publicly rather than behind closed doors with them. But Pompeo told Fox News that talking about such issues was in line with the Trump administration̵
“This is something that the American demands their leaders talk about, and that’s what I did,” Pompeo told Fox News. “I honor the power of the Catholic Church, its capacity for moral good throughout the world. I deeply believe in that and we encourage them to continue to use their persuasive power, their ability to influence the hearts and minds of people all over the world to improve the lives of people who are in very difficult situations around the world, including inside China. “
There were speculations that the pope did not receive Pompeo in part because of perceived interference in a church affair. But the Vatican has said it was about elections. It is said that Pope Francis will not be considered a prop in a heated election campaign.
Pompeo, on the other hand, took it in stride. “You know he’s a busy man. We planned this a little late. He does not always meet with foreign ministers either. They have made it clear, on my next trip we will be able to do that. ”
Meanwhile, China, whether it is oppression of Catholics or Uyghurs, is never far from the secretary’s mind. Fox News asked what he considered the No. 1 threat that Beijing poses to the United States.
“When you stare at the capacity and actions taken by Secretary-General Xi Jinping around the world, you will come to understand the nature of authoritarian regimes. The world knows these systems well, the damage they inflict on fundamental human dignity, the security risks that come from unstable nations. And when you have so much effort to exercise this very political control within your own country, it bleeds over. ”
Iran has been another focus of foreign policy during the Trump administration.
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Fox News asked about the much-publicized “maximum pressure” campaign to pressure Iran to change its tactics. Yet the Tehran government has been intact, it has not come to the negotiating table, and it has accelerated its nuclear activity since the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Pompeo said, “I remember it would only have been a few months ago that journalists would have asked, well, you have not made any progress in normalizing with Israel either. These things only happen the day they happen and that is true. The Islamic Republic of Iran continues its terrorist campaign around the world and continues all the efforts it has made in its nuclear program. The wrong way to approach it was to appease, give them money to give them wealth, create opportunities for them to build their terror campaign around the world. We stopped it. ”
The Washington Post and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder in Istanbul was Friday two years ago. There remained no definitive conclusion as to who ordered it.
“President Trump made it clear from the beginning that this was a horrific murder that was tragic. We have demanded that Saudi Arabia intervene against those who committed it. There are those who are now in prison as a result of having engaged in this. We want to make sure that their study is full, complete, thorough and also gets to the bottom of this. We have been assured that they will and will continue to push this issue with them, ”Pompeo said.
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Another issue of freedom and dignity: the situation in Belarus, whose people have been demonstrating consistently for almost two months and demanded the resignation of longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko. Pompeo said the United States wanted to support the ambitions of the people on the streets.
“We have been very supportive. “We declared the election a fraud within days of the end of the election,” the Secretary of State said. We have opposed that he has now been initiated. We know what the people of Belarus want. They want something else. They want freedom. They will turn in a different direction that President Lukashenko has not given them. And we will be with them to try to help them, support them, use our diplomatic skills to give them a better way forward. ”