BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought on Tuesday to re-establish friendlier ties with the incoming leaders of the European Union and mark an end to troubled relations since President Donald Trump took office, a senior U.S. diplomat said.
Framed as a “reset” in the relationship, Washington’s envoy to Brussels told reporters that Pompeo’s meetings with the new four top officials on Monday night and on Tuesday went “extraordinarily well”.
“The secretary made this trip solely and exclusively to see the four EU leaders with the objective of resetting our relationship,” U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said.
“Our relationship had reached multiple impasses on multiple fronts and resulted in a lot of uncomfortable, cranky conversations,” he said, saying Trump endorsed Pompeo’s trip.
From his support for Britain’s departure from the bloc to a brief downgrade of the EU’s status in Washington, Trump’s disdain for Brussels and his withdrawal from agreements backed by the EU have soured ties and divided traditional allies.
The meetings signal a change in approach. In late 2018, Pompeo warned in a speech in Brussels that Trump’s “America First” policy was reshaping the post-World War Two system on the basis of sovereign states, not institutions like the EU.
But Sondland said the new team chosen to run the bloc’s three institutions of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council had grown used to Trump’s leadership style and were ready to work with him.
“There’s a recognition that we share the same objective but we have different tactics,” Sondland said.
The EU institutions declined to comment.
Pompeo met Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, who will take over as president of the Commission; the EU’s incoming foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell of Spain; Belgium’s caretaker prime minister Charles Michel, who will chair EU summits; and Italy’s David Sassoli, the new speaker of the EU’s parliament.
Von der Leyen and Borrell take office on Nov. 1, while Michel will start in December. Sassoli began in July.
“It is a healthy thing to disagree .. But that doesn’t belie the friendship and the necessity of a long-time alliance. This is not a Trump issue ... this is a EU-U.S. issue,” Sondland said after Pompeo had left for Washington.
Sondland said he also hoped all four new leaders would meet Trump in the White House soon.
“They are welcome to call Pompeo 24/7 ... even just to talk. All four of them can get through to the president if they really would like to speak to him directly,” Sondland said.
For his part, Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to accuse Brussels of unfair trade practices.
“For all of the ‘geniuses’ out there, many who have been in other administrations and ‘taken to the cleaners’ by China, that want me to get together with the EU and others to go after China Trade practices remember, the EU & all treat us VERY unfairly on Trade also. Will change!”
Reporting by Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington, Editing by William Maclean and Sonya Hepinstall