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Pompeo takes conciliatory tone in Germany amid rocky ties

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Berlin (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought Friday to paper over differences with Germany in the face of a deepening rift with one of its major NATO allies.

The divisions were underlined earlier this week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a veiled criticism of President Donald Trump during a visit to the United States.

Germany is the first stop on a four-nation tour of Europe in which Pompeo will also visit Switzerland and the Netherlands before joining Trump on his state visit to Britain.

His trip to Berlin had been cancelled at the last minute in early May, as Pompeo then took a major detour to visit Iraq to discuss security as tensions rose sharply between the United States and Iran.

The abrupt cancellation had raised eyebrows as the two allies were at loggerheads over a number of issues including the Iran nuclear deal, NATO defence spending and the North Stream 2 pipeline project between Germany and Russia.

Merkel, in the United States on Thursday to deliver an address at Harvard University, said she deplored "walls" and "lies described as truth."

She also called on the world to do all "humanly possible" to combat climate change -- an issue which Pompeo calls a low priority.

- 'Great partner' -

But in Berlin on Friday, Pompeo took a different tone.

Thanking his hosts for the rapid rescheduling, he was at pains to underline moves by Berlin on a slew of issues -- from taking in Chinese dissidents to banning Iran's Mahan Air from landing on its soil.

"Germans continue to show how much they prize security and how much they prize freedom for their own people and indeed for the rest of the world," he said at a press conference with German counterpart Heiko Maas.

Ahead of talks with Merkel, Pompeo told reporters Germany was a "great partner of the United States".

His tone starkly contrasted with that of Trump, who has repeatedly clashed with Merkel, taking her to task over Germany's welcome of migrants in open criticism that would have barely been imaginable from a US president before the real estate mogul's surprise 2016 election.

Germany, among other European allies of Washington, is sceptical of the hardline US approach to Iran and favours a 2015 agreement, from which Trump withdrew, on curbing Tehran's nuclear programme.

After weeks of escalating tensions which saw the United States deploy an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region, Trump has moved away from his more hawkish advisers by saying he wants talks with Iran.

- 'Opportunities and challenges' -

Pompeo has said the United States has channels to communicate with Iran. While he has not revealed details, Switzerland -- his second stop on the trip -- handles US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.

Germany has been a key partner of the United States in Afghanistan, where Trump is seeking to withdraw US troops after nearly two decades of fighting.

But the allies also have major differences with Germany defying US warnings against building Nord Stream 2, a major new natural gas pipeline with Russia that would bypass Ukraine, where Moscow backs separatists.

Germany has also refused to follow the US lead on banning Chinese telecom company Huawei from developing fifth-generation technology amid Washington's concerns that the firm will jeopardise security and privacy due to its government ties.

"Everywhere I go, we talk about the opportunities and challenges that China presents not only to the United States and its security but to countries around the world," Pompeo said.

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