U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will land in Italy tomorrow, a visit that will touch on all the prickliest geopolitical topics of the day—all except the impeachment inquiry he’s leaving behind in Washington.
The chairs of three different House committees subpoenaed Pompeo on Friday as they seek evidence in connection with the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump.
Pompeo will be leaving that in the rear-view mirror, however, as the former CIA director meets tomorrow and Wednesday with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, and with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio.
On the agenda will be a number of issues involving global trade and security. Italy is expected to use the occasion to press Pompeo on the U.S.-China trade war. The fallout to Italian manufacturers has been severe; growth in the G7 nation has all but stalled this year.
In turn, the American contingent will want to gauge the market dynamic between Italy and Huawei and ZTE, and what role the Chinese telecoms equipment giants will play in the future rollout of 5G networks in the country. The Trump Administration has blacklisted Huawei, which it regards as a security concern.
Russia sanctions, migration and Iran policy will round out the talks.
Conspicuously not on the agenda: U.S. domestic issues. An Italian journalist covering the Pompeo visit told Fortune the order has come down: questions related to the Trump impeachment inquiry are off-limits.
The trip, Pompeo’s first to Italy as secretary of state, will be a high-visibility event. Italy’s Di Maio will meet his flight when it lands, and he’ll be followed by Italian television cameras all day.
The visit marks an important occasion for the new Italian government, which collapsed last month and reformed fairly quickly, this time with a more centrist-left bent. Italy is trying to walk a fine line between the interests of the U.S., the European Union, and China. According to Hildebrandt and Ferrar economist Javier Noriega, Italy will be desperate to gain some clarity on U.S. views on many of the difficult topics the new Italian government is facing.
“The U.S. has warned about security concerns related to Huawei and ZTE technology, for example,” Noriega told Fortune. “Italy’s export sector is suffering from the trade war between Washington and Beijing, and Italy is a major buyer of Russian natural gas. The country would benefit from understanding U.S. intentions in many of these areas.”
Pompeo will also deliver a keynote address at the U.S.-Holy See Symposium on Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations, the State Department said in a brief statement, as well as meet with Pope Francis to discuss sustainable development and the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world.
Pompeo will even make a stop in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, east of Rome, his family’s ancestral homeland.
After leaving Italy, Pompeo will head to Montenegro—the most recent member of NATO—and North Macedonia to discuss Russian influence in those countries. After that, Pompeo will travel to Greece before heading back to Washington.
Italy, which is teetering on the edge of its second recession in less than two years, is in desperate need of some breakthroughs in global trade. The new Italian government is trying to put on the charm offensive.
The Italian media quoted an unnamed Italian diplomat on Monday who praised Pompeo as the “strongest U.S. secretary of state in years” on a visit that “takes on a central importance, one that Rome must be able to seize.”
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