U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with American troops in southern Germany on Thursday, starting a trip based around the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in an area where he served as an Army officer during the Cold War.
Pompeo, who served as a tank platoon leader on the border with Czechoslovakia and East Germany in the 1980s, chatted with troops at the Grafenwoehr training area and nearby Vilseck and attended a live-fire exercise before heading north to meet up with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the town of Moedlareuth.
During the Cold War, Moedlareuth was split down the middle by the border between East and West Germany, with the southern part in Bavaria and the northern part in Thuringia, a partition that gave rise to its nickname, “Little Berlin.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans were stationed in West Germany during the Cold War, and the country was one of the U.S.’s closest allies. That relationship continued after the Nov. 9, 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, but ties have become strained recently under the presidency of Donald Trump over a series of issues.
In talks with Maas and Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pompeo is expected to discuss growing U.S. concerns about economic and strategic threats from Russia, China and Iran. He is expected to reiterate U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which had been staunchly supported by Germany and Russia, according to American officials.
The pipeline project got a boost last week, when Danish regulators dropped environmental objections to a portion that would go through its waters. The plan to transport natural gas about 1,200-kilometers (746-miles) through the Baltic Sea from Russia to Europe has come under fire from the Trump administration and several European countries, who argue that it will increase Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy.
In advance of next month’s NATO leaders’ meeting in London, Pompeo is expected to raise U.S. expectations that Germany will deliver on a pledge that all allies made to boost defense spending.
En route, however, Pompeo sounded a conciliatory note, tweeting that Germany is “one of America’s most trusted friends, an important ally, and a close partner in our engagement with Europe and the world.”
“Looking forward to constructive conversations on how we can work together to address many critical global issues,” he added.
Pompeo is visiting five German cities on the two-day trip. In Berlin, he will deliver a speech highlighting the U.S. role in helping eastern and central Europe “throw off the yoke of communism,” according to the U.S. State Department.
He will also unveil a statue of Ronald Reagan on an upper-level terrace of the U.S. Embassy, overlooking the site in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate where the Berlin Wall once stood and the former president gave his famous 1987 speech beseeching then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “open this gate” and “tear down this wall.”
Other stops Thursday include a visit to the site of the attack on a synagogue in Halle and the city of Leipzig, where mass protests set the ball rolling which led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
UK police say they have formally identified the 39 people found dead in a container truck in southeastern England and notified their families in the apparent people-smuggling tragedy.
The authorities said Thursday they’ve been working with Vietnamese police and the coroner to identify the bodies that were found Oct. 23 in the back of a truck in an industrial park in the English town of Grays.
“This is an important step in the investigation and enables us to work with our Vietnamese Police colleagues to support the families of those victims,” Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith. “It is only right that we provide an opportunity for family members to take in the news confirming the death of their loved ones before releasing any further information.”
Police last week said all of the victims were Vietnamese citizens. DNA samples were taken from families in Vietnam who suspected their missing relatives may have been on that truck.
British police have charged 25-year-old Maurice Robinson from Northern Ireland with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. They say he drove the cab of the truck to the English port of Purfleet, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Three other people have been released on bail pending further investigation in the case.
In Ireland, a 22-year-old man was arrested on a British warrant. Essex Police said they have started extradition proceedings to bring him to the U.K. to face charges of manslaughter in the case.
Several other suspects have been arrested in Vietnam.
Russian troops clad in World War II-era uniforms marched Thursday across Moscow’s Red Square in a reconstruction of a legendary wartime parade.
The Nov. 7, 1941, parade saw Red Army soldiers move directly to the front line in the Battle of Moscow, becoming a symbol of Soviet valor and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds.
The Nazi forces approached Moscow in October 1941 as the Red Army suffered a series of devastating defeats after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. They came as close as 30 kilometers (less than 19 miles) to the city in some areas and Nazi officers were able to see Moscow’s landmarks in binoculars.
As Moscow’s fate was hanging in the balance, Soviet leader Josef Stalin ordered the parade to boost morale of the city’s defenders. The Soviet command eventually managed to bring in fresh troops from the country’s east and launch a counteroffensive that drove the Nazis back. It was the Nazis’ first major defeat since the start of World War II.
Thursday’s re-enactment featured about 4,000 troops, vintage T-34 tanks and other vehicles.
During Soviet times, annual military parades were held on Nov. 7 to mark the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The holiday was abolished in 2005, but communist party members still celebrate it.
Thanks to higher revenues and reduced costs, Commerzbank's operating profit jumped nearly 30 percent year on year to 448 million euros (496 million U.S. dollars), and its net profit soared 35 percent to 294 million euros in the third quarter (Q3) of fiscal 2019, Germany's second largest bank announced on Thursday.
Commerzbank reported a net 141,000 new private customers in Germany, which contributed to expansion of business volumes in its Private and Small Business Customers segment.
Although the Corporate Clients segment recorded lower revenues in Q3 compared to the same period of the previous year, Commerzbank's total revenues increased by 2 percent to nearly 2.2 billion euros.
On the other hand, the bank continued to cut its costs in Q3, with the operating costs down to 1.56 billion euros, 3 percent less than Q3 of 2018.
Consequently, the bank reduced its cost base to 5.1 billion euros in the first nine months of 2019.
The European Commission said on Thursday that euro area gross domestic product (GDP) is forecast to expand by 1.1 percent in 2019 and by 1.2 percent in 2020 and 2021.
Compared with the projections the European Union's executive arm published in July, the growth forecast has been downgraded by 0.1 percentage points for 2019 and 0.2 percentage points for 2020.
The European economy is in its seventh consecutive year of expansion, but the bloc now "looks to be heading towards a protracted period of more subdued growth and muted inflation," the commission said in a statement.
"The external environment has become much less supportive and uncertainty is running high. This is particularly affecting the manufacturing sector, which is also experiencing structural shifts," it said.
The commission said trade tensions between the United States and China and high levels of policy uncertainty, especially with respect to trade, have dampened investment, manufacturing and international trade.
"With global GDP growth set to remain weak, growth in Europe will depend on the strength of more domestically-oriented sectors," it said.
Vice President of the European Commission for the Euro and Social Dialogue Valdis Dombrovskis said the bloc would face "troubled waters ahead," including "a period of high uncertainty related to trade conflicts, rising geopolitical tensions, persistent weakness in the manufacturing sector and Brexit."
Top euro zone officials earlier said Germany and the Netherlands, which run budget surpluses, should invest more to help boost economic growth in their own economies and throughout the euro zone.
Dombrovskis said he "urged" all member states with high levels of public debt to pursue prudent fiscal policies and "member states that have fiscal space should use it now."
"All policy levers will need to be used to strengthen Europe's resilience and support growth," European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici said.