Pompeo is unlikely to escape tough questions abroad.
The trip was originally planned for January 3-7 with stops in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Cyprus but was rescheduled on January 1 on account of trouble in the Middle East. Violent protests in Baghdad threatened the U.S. embassy there. In the press release announcing the postponement, the State Department said the delay was “due to the need for the Secretary to be in Washington, D.C., to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq and ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East.”
Two days later, Qassem Soleimani — commander of Iran’s Quds Force — was killed in a U.S. drone strike near the Baghdad airport. The controversial decision to kill the leader of another country’s military forces was reportedly made by Trump “at the urging of Pompeo and Vice President Pence” according to officials who spoke to the .
Needless to say, Pompeo had more than Central Asia on his mind in early January and arguably still does.
Now underway, Pompeo’s trip has a new itinerary starting in London just ahead of the U.K.’s departure from the European Union. On Thursday, Pompeo will head to Ukraine, itself at the epicenter of U.S. President Donald Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial. He’ll then stop in Belarus and Kazakhstan on February 1 and then onward to Uzbekistan on February 2-3 before heading back to Washington.
In Kazakhstan, Pompeo will meet with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and First President Nursultan Nazarbayev as well as Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi “to reaffirm our shared commitment to peace, prosperity, and security in Central Asia,” according to a State Department press release.
In Uzbekistan, Pompeo is scheduled to meet with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov “ to underscore U.S. support for Uzbekistan’s reforms and the country’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.”.
John Kerry, secretary of state from February 2013 to January 2017, traveled to Central Asia in 2015 — hitting all five states in an unprecedented flurry between October 31 and November 3 that year. His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan in late 2010 and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (again) in 2011.
Pompeo’s trip is expected to include the unveiling of a new U.S. strategy for the Central Asian region.