US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit four countries on a tour of Latin America
Washington (AFP) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will press US efforts to curb immigration and counter Iran during a four-nation tour of Latin America, the State Department said Tuesday.
Pompeo on Sunday will stop in both Mexico and El Salvador as President Donald Trump takes controversial measures to deter and remove mostly Central American migrants who are seeking safety in the United States.
Under a new policy, the Trump administration is declaring ineligible for asylum most migrants who cross the US southern border through Mexico.
Under threat of US tariffs, Mexico last month agreed to take in migrants from violence-riven Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as the United States processes their claims.
But Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who negotiated last month's accord and will meet Pompeo in Mexico City, has voiced disagreement with the latest US moves, rejecting efforts to limit refuge for people who fear for their lives.
A State Department official said that Pompeo would seek to step up efforts with El Salvador to combat gangs and drug trafficking, saying the secretary will sign a lease extension to let US personnel use the country's international airport.
Pompeo will start his tour in Argentina where he will take part on Friday in a "counterterrorism ministerial" among Western Hemisphere nations.
The ministerial will commemorate the 25th anniversary of a bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
Argentina suspects the attack was carried out by the Lebanese Shiite militant movement Hezbollah, but efforts to question Iran, the group's primary sponsor, have been roiled by political interference and allegations of high-level corruption.
Another US official said that Pompeo would bring the same message that he delivered in March in Beirut -- that the United States "will bring unprecedented pressure to bear on Iran until it ceases all malign behavior including that which is carried out by Hezbollah."
In a concrete achievement of the ministerial meeting, the official said Latin American nations were expected to start their own system of blacklisting and imposing sanctions on "terrorists," following the US model.
- Friends in Argentina, Ecuador -
Pompeo will also seek to advance warming ties with two presidents in Latin America -- Argentina's Mauricio Macri and Ecuador's Lenin Moreno.
With an eye on his home base, Trump has vowed to eradicate socialism across Latin America, ramping up pressure on Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
But the center-right Macri, who pushed through austerity measures to secure IMF bailouts of Argentina's troubled economy, faces a tough re-election fight in October.
"We recognize Argentina and the Argentine government as a respected and valuable partner both regionally and globally," another US official said, offering US assistance on furthering economic reforms and developing the energy sector.
Pompeo will be the first US secretary of state to visit Ecuador in nine years when he meets Moreno on Saturday in the country's commercial port of Guayaquil.
The United States was delighted when Moreno, in a reversal from his predecessor, evicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Ecuador's London embassy, where he was holed up for nearly seven years as he sought to avoid extradition.
Moreno "has really done a great job in guiding Ecuador on a new path. We are eager to work with him to advance our shared interests," the official said.
He praised Ecuador for leading the so-called Quito Process in which regional countries coordinate policies toward the millions of Venezuelans who have fled their collapsing economy.
Pompeo will also make two stops on US soil, in Puerto Rico and Orlando.