Trump said last month that he plans to withdraw more than 9,000 troops from Germany, where the U.S. has roughly 35,000 troops and their families stationed. Senators of both parties have decried lessening the American presence in Europe, as an aggressive Russia has long complained about the number of U.S. troops on the continent.
O’Brien is bringing some journalists on the trip, along with Ryan Tully, the new National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs who will be on his first official day on the job. O’Brien is set to arrive in France on Monday morning and take part in bilateral meetings later that day. Then O’Brien and Pottinger will meet in a group with the European officials on Tuesday and Wednesday in a French government building that has been at least weeks in the planning. O’Brien is also separately meeting several other French government officials during the trip.
“Ambassador O’Brien looks forward to conducting in-depth meetings in Paris this week with his counterparts from France, UK, Germany and Italy to address a range of national security challenges including China, 5G, Russia, Afghanistan, Middle East/North Africa and COVID response and recovery,” said NSC spokesperson John Ullyot, who will also be on the trip.
Though the European Union is slowly allowing more international visitors, it is still blocking Americans indefinitely from visiting EU countries, citing the U.S. failure to contain the spread of coronavirus. The EU’s travel restrictions are reviewed every two weeks.
When asked why O’Brien is traveling to France instead of conducting the meeting by video conference, the administration official said it was “more powerful making the case in person. There is no substitute for personal diplomacy. You can’t do that over Skype.” O’Brien most recently traveled to Arizona late last month, where he gave a tough anti-China speech to a small socially distanced audience.