REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday talked up the importance of friends and allies as he visited two European capitals one day after Vice President Pence harshly criticized allies he said are helping Iran evade sanctions.
“No more will we take our friends, our true allies, our partners for granted,” he told reporters after noting he was the first secretary of state to visit in a decade and saying Iceland, like the Eastern European countries he visited on this trip, had done exactly that. “We simply can’t afford to neglect them.”
Pompeo stopped in Iceland while returning home from Warsaw, where the United States co-hosted a Middle East peace and security conference that was focused largely on what the administration considers the malign influence of Iran.
Pence stunned the conference Thursday when he singled out Britain, France and Germany for harsh criticism, even though they have traditionally been close U.S. allies. All negotiated and signed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that President Trump pulled out of, and recently launched a special system designed to allow trade with Iran to continue, largely through bartering.
Pence urged them to join the United States in spurning the agreement, even though they consider it vital to their own security, and accused them of siding with Iran by helping it evade U.S. sanctions.
Before stopping in Iceland, which becomes chair of the Arctic Council this spring, Pompeo stopped briefly in Brussels for a breakfast meeting with Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
Mogherini declined to answer a question shouted to her asking for her response to Pence’s speech, waving it off with a smile and a shake of her head. Neither diplomat spoke to reporters in Brussels.
Robert Palladino, the State Department spokesman, later said that reporter’s question was the only time Pence’s speech was mentioned in Pompeo’s one-hour meeting with Mogherini. The nuclear issue never came up either, he said.
In a brief news conference in Reykjavik, Pompeo declined to address the matter of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s recent invitation to Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy for the country, to visit the country, other than to suggest it is a sign of the Venezuelan leader’s desperation.
“The fact he has publicly said he wants to talk with the United States is not new,” he said.
“But I think it demonstrates his increasing understanding that the Venezuelan people are rejecting him and his model of governance. And that the interim president, Mr. [Juan] Guaidó, is both constitutionally the leader of that country and importantly, will lead Venezuela, and the Venezuelan people, toward free and fair elections which will determine a way forward, which will put the Venezuelans in a much better place and on a path to economic recovery.”
He once again blamed Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis on Maduro and said the United States will continue trying to get food and medicine into Maduro’s impoverished nation. The delivery of $20 million in U.S. aid has been blocked by the Maduro government.
“This man, Maduro, has created a humanitarian crisis that is unequaled, in a nation where there was no hard conflict,” Pompeo said. “And we as citizens, this weekend will continue to deliver massive humanitarian assistance.”