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Pompeo heads to Ukraine next week as impeachment winds down

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Ukraine next week, making his first trip to the country at the heart of President Donald Trump's impeachment.

As Trump's Senate trial on impeachment charges continues, the State Department announced Friday that Pompeo would travel to Kiev as part of a five-nation tour of Europe and Central Asia. Since November, Pompeo has twice previously canceled plans to visit Ukraine, most recently just after the New Year when developments with Iran forced him to postpone it. Pompeo will also visit Britain, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the trip.

Trump's impeachment on charges of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress hinges on his policy toward Ukraine. Witnesses told House investigators that Trump wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden's son in return for releasing critical military aid to Ukraine.

One of those witnesses, William Taylor, was until Jan. 1 the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Pompeo had appointed Taylor to the post over the summer to take over from Marie Yovanovitch, whose tour was abruptly cut short last May after Trump's personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani made unsubstantiated allegations against her.

Taylor departed Kyiv just a day before Pompeo was to have arrived on his previously planned trip. The position was temporary and time-limited by law but his tenure could have lasted until mid-January. His departure prompted complaints from lawmakers that his departure was similar to Yovanovitch's early recall and sent a poor message to the embassy in Kyiv and career diplomats more generally, as well as to Ukrainian authorities.

In Kyiv, Pompeo will meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose July 25 phone call with Trump triggered the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump's impeachment. In that call, Trump disparaged Yovanovitch and asked Zelenskiy for “a favor,” suggesting he wanted Ukrainian authorities to investigate Biden's son, Hunter Biden, for corruption. Trump has said the call was “perfect” and has denied doing anything wrong.

In his meetings, Pompeo will “reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” as the country continues to battle Russia-backed separatists in the east, the State Department said. Pompeo also will honor Ukrainians who have died in the conflict, which intensified after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014, in a move condemned and rejected by most of the international community. The senior official said Pompeo would underscore that the U.S. will never recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea.

A senior official previewing Pompeo's ultimately postponed trip, said the secretary would discuss Zelenskiy's anti-corruption efforts but would not comment on whether the secretary would raise Trump's desire for an investigation into Hunter Biden and his role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company or discredited claims that Ukraine and not Russia was responsible for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In addition, Pompeo plans to meet Ukrainian religious, civic and business leaders for talks on human rights, investment and economic and political reform, the department said.

Pompeo will begin his trip on Jan. 31 in London, where he will meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson and underscore the administration's desire to forge a free-trade trade deal with Britain as it exits the European Union.

From Ukraine, Pompeo will travel on to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan before returning home in time for Trump's State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4. Human rights, energy independence and economic reform will top Pompeo's agenda at each of those stops.

In Minsk, the secretary plans to affirm the U.S. commitment to improving ties with Belarus, which has had a strained relationship with Russia. President Alexander Lukashenko has pursued better relations with the West since Russia's annexation of Crimea as Belarus is wary that Russia could try to absorb it.

In September, the U.S. and Belarus agreed to upgrade diplomatic ties by returning ambassadors to each other's capitals after an 11-year break.