Pompeo Heads to Latin America Amid Concerns Over Immigration, Venezuela
WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is bound for Latin America this week on a trip set to focus on regional counter terrorism cooperation, the crisis in Venezuela and the Trump administration’s effort to stem immigration and border crossings.
Mr. Pompeo will visit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico as well as Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador before stopping in Orlando, Fla., on the way back to Washington.
The visit comes amid a dispute over a U.S. proposal to designate Guatemala as a safe third country for asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador.
The potential deal appeared to collapse over the weekend, as Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales canceled a scheduled visit to Washington and deferred a decision until after his country’s constitutional court rules on the matter.
A senior State Department official said Tuesday the administration continues to negotiate with Guatemala “to achieve the shared goal of reducing illegal migration.”
While in Buenos Aires, Mr. Pompeo will participate in a counterterrorism conference of Western Hemisphere countries, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, or AMIA, a Jewish center in the Argentine capital.
The 1994 terrorist attack, Argentina’s deadliest, killed 85 people and injured dozens. Argentine prosecutors accused senior Iranian officials of masterminding the attack, using allies in the militant Hezbollah movement. Iran has denied the accusations.
The investigation of the terrorist attack has been one of the most contentious issues in Argentina over the past two decades. Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was slain in 2015 hours before he was to testify in Congress against then-President Cristina Kirchner, alleging that she had conspired with Iran to sabotage his investigation into the bombing of AMIA. The probe into Mr. Nisman´s murder has yet to be resolved.
This week’s conference will be the second Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial, the State Department having hosted the first in Washington in December.
Another senior State Department official said Tuesday the conference would likely result in a joint communiqué. The official said the U.S. envisions the establishment of a regional mechanism similar to the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in the Persian Gulf, which enables member states to jointly designate individuals and entities as terrorists.
During his time in Argentina, Mr. Pompeo is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Chilean Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera, and Bahamian Foreign Minister Darren Henfield.
Mr. Pompeo’s trip is intended to demonstrate the sort of “voluntary, flexible multilateralism” promoted by the administration, a senior administration official said.
The U.S. continues to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself the country’s interim president in January following the swearing in of President Nicolás Maduro for a second six-year term. More than 50 countries have taken Mr. Guaidó’s side but the opposition appears to have lost momentum after a failed attempt to oust Mr. Maduro in May.
The administration official said the stop in Guayaquil, Ecuador, would offer an opportunity for the U.S. to deepen its relationship with that country. The official said Venezuela will be discussed, noting that Mr. Pompeo raises the issue on all his visits to Latin America.
El Salvador has distinguished itself from its neighbors in taking an “overtly pro-American” approach, the official said.
—Santiago Pérez in Mexico City contributed to this article.