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Pompeo pledges Slovakia support on latest stop to curb Russia, China

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised Tuesday that the United States would support Slovakia’s security and economy on his latest stop on a Central European tour aimed at curbing the growing influence of Russia and China.

Pompeo, the first US secretary of state to visit Slovakia in 14 years, told President Andrej Kiska as they met: “It’s been too long since America has been deeply engaged here.”

A day after talks in Hungary, Pompeo is seeking to highlight the US role in the fall of communism three decades ago as Russian President Vladimir Putin finds a widening audience in the former Eastern Bloc.

Pompeo greeted five former political prisoners at a memorial to the so-called Gate of Freedom on the border with Austria, where 400 people were killed from 1945 to 1989 as they tried to escape the Iron Curtain of then Czechoslovakia.

“Where barbed wire and armed guards stood, today people, goods and information cross freely,” Pompeo said.

“The United States has stood with the people of Slovakia as a friend, as a partner… for the past 30 years, and we will continue to stand with you in the decades to come,” he said.

“On behalf of the United States I’m proud to stand in union with the people of Slovakia and Europe in recommitting to a future that is more prosperous, more secure and, most of all, great,” he said.

– Alternative to Russia –

President Donald Trump has voiced admiration for Putin but the wider US government finds the Russian leader to be a nemesis and is seeking to find alternatives for European nations to Russia’s energy exports.

A senior US official travelling with Pompeo said that the Trump administration was pursuing a strategy similar to that in Asia, where for years the United States has been seeking to curb China’s power.

“It emphasises in vulnerable regions where our rivals, the Chinese and the Russians, are gaining ground that we want to increase our diplomatic, military and cultural engagement,” the official told reporters.

He said that the United States was also looking across Central Europe to provide more support to boost an independent media, amid concerns about an erosion of press freedom.

In Hungary, the most pro-Russia member of the European Union, Pompeo raised concerns to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government both over ties with Moscow and Budapest’s contract with Chinese telecom giant Huawei to develop the country’s fifth-generation mobile network.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto welcomed Pompeo’s calls for closer ties and promised more defence cooperation but also brushed off the criticism on relations with Russia and China.

He said that Western concerns on Hungary’s ties with Moscow amounted to “enormous hypocrisy” as Western European nations were doing the energy deals with Russia.

Pompeo heads later Tuesday to Poland, where he is co-hosting a conference on the Middle East that will promote President Donald Trump’s hard line on Iran and strong support for Israel.