The abrupt cancellation — Pompeo phoned Stoltenberg about the decision around noon Tuesday while some of his aides were already on the ground in Belgium — comes at a perilous time in U.S. politics.
Some of the officials Pompeo planned to meet with have issued public statements of concern about the violence at the Capitol incited by President Trump as Pompeo has tried to castigate those impugning the health of America’s democracy as committing “slander.”
Pompeo, who often boasts of America’s status in the world when traveling abroad, would be arriving in Brussels amid turmoil at home, including FBI warnings of armed protests in all 50 states, thousands of National Guard troops preparing to deploy to the nation’s capital, a fresh impeachment push against the president by House Democrats and record deaths and infections in the United States related to the novel coronavirus.
The State Department said Pompeo’s trip was designed “to reaffirm the deep and enduring partnership between the United States and Belgium and the unwavering U.S. support for NATO.” Besides Stoltenberg, he was also set to meet Belgium’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
Pompeo reportedly planned to stop in Luxembourg on Thursday, but the meeting fell through after the country’s foreign minister called Trump a “political pyromaniac” and a “criminal” for inciting the rioters at the Capitol.
Unlike Vice President Pence, Pompeo has avoided the president’s ire in the aftermath of the Capitol attack. In his carefully crafted statements, the top diplomat has avoided criticizing Trump’s actions and is instead focusing on how critics are characterizing the events.
“Many prominent people — including journalists and politicians — have likened the United States to a banana republic,” Pompeo tweeted a day after the assault on the Capitol. “The slander reveals a faulty understanding of banana republics and of democracy in America.”
Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.