LEIPZIG, GERMANY - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his German counterpart stressed the importance of the NATO alliance Thursday, saying that trans-Atlantic cooperation was critical in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago and is still relevant today.
Their strong defense of the alliance came after French President Emmanuel Macron claimed in an interview that a lack of U.S. leadership is causing the "brain death" of NATO.
Speaking after visiting the German village of Moedlareuth with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, which was divided into two during the Cold War, Pompeo told reporters it was the "remarkable work" of democratic nations that "created freedom and brought millions of people out of very, very difficult situations."
"I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history," Pompeo told reporters in Leipzig.
Maas also weighed in, saying he did "not believe NATO is brain dead," adding "I firmly believe in international cooperation."
Pompeo started his day visiting American troops in southern Germany 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 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.
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. That is also where the former U.S. president gave his famous 1987 speech beseeching then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "open this gate" and "tear down this wall."