STATE DEPARTMENT - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to the Munich Security Conference, Senegal, Angola, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Oman, with security, economic ties and shared values likely to be a common thread at all of the stops.
At the Munich Security Conference, Pompeo and leaders from around the world are likely to discuss the coronavirus, efforts towards ending the violence in Afghanistan, the security situation in Iraq, and the threat posed by Iran.
The visit will be Pompeo's first as the chief U.S. diplomat to sub-Saharan Africa, and his first stop there will be Senegal. A senior State Department officials told reporters the U.S. has 60 years of relations with Senegal and shares strong democratic values with Dakar.
"Senegal is an extremely strong security partner for the United States. Especially with the very serious stability, terrorism, conflict problems going on in that region, Senegal is an absolute bulwark."
The senior State Department official said Senegal exports stability instead of instability, and is a very tolerant society - in many ways a role model for the entire continent. Pompeo is planning to meet with Senegal's President Macky Sall.
U.S. Africa Command says there are currently some 6,000 U.S. military personnel deployed in Africa, but that number could be reduced following a global review the Pentagon is conducting. Senegal's President Sall has said a drawdown of U.S. forces would be a mistake, and would be misunderstood by Africans.
The Pentagon's review also comes as U.S. defense and intelligence officials are voicing renewed concerns about the spread of increasingly capable terrorist groups in Africa, warning some have become so powerful it is no longer possible to "degrade" them.
A senior State Department official said he would defer to the Defense Department about the review of troop levels, but added:
"But I can tell you that from the U.S. State Department's point of view, an awful lot of the security programs that we conduct in the Sahel are actually paid for by U.S. State Department funds. We absolutely plan to continue those programs."
Angola is the second stop, with senior State Department officials praising President Joao Lourenco for his economic and political reforms, his strong anti-corruption efforts, and his strong regional leadership.
Pompeo is expected to offer U.S. support for democratization and anti-corruption efforts that Lourenco has put in place since the departure of former Angolan leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
From Luanda, Pompeo will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and will meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde to discuss joint efforts to promote regional security and to support Ethiopia's historic political and economic reform agenda.
Secretary Pompeo will also meet with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and deliver remarks.
U.S. competition with China is likely to be an issue, with State Department officials saying they will highlight the advantages of doing business with American companies, which they say are better at creating jobs for Africa's rapidly growing population of young people. A senior State Department official said:
"Africa's population will be doubling between now and 2050, and we want to absolutely empower that youth and make sure that they are a force for dynamic growth and economic empowerment and better governance in the world."
Women's empowerment and removing barriers to equality are also likely to be a focus in all of the stops.
From Addis Ababa, Pompeo will travel to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with senior leaders of the kingdom to discuss bilateral and regional issues, including Iran's influence in the region, the escalation of violence in Yemen and human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
His last stop will be Muscat, Oman. The secretary will express his condolences on the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in person, and will meet with the new sultan, Haitham bin Tarik. A senior State Department official said:
"This is an opportunity for the secretary to underscore the United States steadfast partnership with Oman, and our desire to continue our strong bilateral cooperation."