Tasnim – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a weeklong trip to Europe where he is raising issues with national leaders —from Iran to China to Venezuela — but the most colorful conversations could take place this weekend in a secretive conclave at a Swiss lakeside resort.
In Montreux, on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, political and business leaders from Western nations are gathering for the 67th Bilderberg Meeting, an annual forum in which participants agree not to reveal exactly what was said or who said it.
It is a shadow version of Davos, the elite annual winter conference in the Swiss Alps that President Trump has attended once but has also criticized.
The US State Department has not even put the Bilderberg Meeting on Pompeo’s public schedule, though a senior official confirmed he was attending Saturday.
Pompeo landed in Zurich on Friday afternoon after a morning of meetings with German leaders in Berlin then took a helicopter to Bern, where he spoke at a gathering of department employees at the United States Embassy. Pompeo was traveling with his wife, Susan, The New York Times reported.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, is another top administration official planning to attend. The 130 or so participants also include King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands; Stacey Abrams, the American politician; Henry Kissinger, the former senior American foreign policy official; Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google; and David H. Petraeus, the retired general. Some top bank executives are on the list, too.
On at least one subject, climate change, many of the participants are expected to have radically different views than Pompeo. In early May, the American secretary, speaking at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland, praised the changes caused by the melting of ice in the Arctic Circle.
“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” Pompeo said while noting the abundance of undiscovered oil and gas, uranium, rare-earth minerals, coal, diamonds, and fisheries in the Arctic.
Pompeo and the Trump administration have also found themselves at odds with European nations on Iran. Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, but European governments still abide by the accord and have urged Iran to stay in.
In fact, it was at Lake Geneva, in the city of Lausanne, that American negotiators led by Pompeo’s predecessor John Kerry worked with foreign officials to complete the 2015 deal.
The current split between the Trump administration and Europeans became apparent again on Friday when Pompeo met in Berlin with Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister.
“It’s no secret that we have differences with regard to the right approach to pursue,” Maas said at a news conference afterward.
Pompeo said he also urged Maas to ban Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement, from Germany, as Britain did this year.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have soared since early May when the Trump administration first announced military movements to “counter” Iran.
Pompeo spoke, too, with Chancellor Angela Merkel about Iran in a separate meeting, as well as about Ukraine, Russia and Afghanistan, the State Department said. That session took place one day after Merkel delivered a speech at Harvard’s commencement that was seen as a rebuke of Trump’s policies and frequent use of falsehoods. The Harvard crowd gave Merkel a standing ovation.
What Pompeo, Kushner and the other Bilderberg attendees actually say to each other will be a mystery to most of the public, thanks to the meeting’s use of the Chatham House Rule, which states that although attendees can tell the public what was discussed, generally, participants must not reveal who said what.
The rule was devised in 1927 by the eponymous policy institute in London when many people feared that the practice of “secret diplomacy led to the horrors of the First World War,” said Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House. The idea, he said, was to encourage officials and experts to speak frankly together, in private, and then to share what they discussed with the public.
“It’s actually not a rule of secrecy, it’s a rule of openness from an era when everything was secret,” he said.
The Bilderberg Meetings used to hold news conferences and distribute synopses to attendees but discontinued the practices in the 1990s and 2000s. Organizers do not plan to reinstate them, a spokesman said.