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Pompeo Arrives In Brussels For First NATO Meeting As Top U.S. Diplomat

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Brussels on April 27 for talks with NATO allies on Russian "aggression" in Europe, a day after being sworn into the office.

A former Army officer and Republican congressman who served for the past 15 months as CIA director, Pompeo is regarded as a loyal supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump who shares Trump's hawkish world views.

Even before his confirmation on April 26, the former CIA director was already involved in U.S. diplomacy, although it will be his first meeting as America's top diplomat with his counterparts in Europe.

The NATO ministers meeting will pave the way for a leaders summit in July. A State Department official said the meeting will focus on what he described as Russia's aggression in Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria, as well as plans for increasing security along Europe's southern frontier.

Pompeo is expected to press members of the alliance to increase their military budgets to meet a target of 2 percent of economic output on defense spending every year by 2024, the official said.

Trump sent Pompeo to North Korea three weeks ago to meet the isolated country's leader, Kim Jong Un, ahead of a summit with the U.S. president aimed at convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

After joining the NATO meetings, Pompeo will visit Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel over the weekend, the department said.

He will have to quickly address a wide array of pressing international issues, including the long wars in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as Russia's assertiveness around the globe.

He comes to the department as U.S. envoys have been working with European allies France, Germany, and Britain on strengthening a 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, an issue Pompeo is expected to discuss while in Brussels.

Pompeo opposed the Iran nuclear accord while in Congress.

He once suggested the answer to Tehran's nuclear program - which Iran has always said was for peaceful means only - was 2,000 bombing sorties.

Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing he was open to fixing, rather than blowing apart, the agreement, which Trump has threatened to kill despite pleas not to do so from the other Western signatories and Russia.

Pompeo is also expected to discuss the nuclear agreement and Iran's involvement in the wars in Yemen and Syria when he visits allies in the Middle East over the weekend.

On his first stop in Saudi Arabia on April 28, the department said Pompeo will meet with Saudi King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. In Jerusalem, he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in Jordan hold talks with King Abdullah.

Pompeo's nomination for secretary of state was approved on a 57-42 vote which was narrower than usual for the top cabinet and diplomatic post. He faced opposition from most Democrats, who said they were concerned that his hawkishness would reinforce and amplify Trump's own hawkish tendencies in world affairs.

Pompeo sought to allay those concerns by pledging to put great effort into resolving matters diplomatically and saying he views military action as only a last resort.

"One of the many values of robust diplomacy is that it increases our chances of solving problems peacefully, without ever firing a shot," Pompeo said in his confirmation hearing earlier this month.

Pompeo said he would pick up where his predecessor Rex Tillerson left off working with European allies to try to strengthen the Iran nuclear deal.

"If there's no chance that we can fix it, I will recommend to the president that we work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and to achieve a better deal," Pompeo said.

Trump said he was pleased by the Senate's confirmation of Pompeo and called him a "patriot" with "immense talent, energy, and intellect."

"He will always put the interests of America first," Trump said in a statement. "He has my trust. He has my support."

Pompeo has said that among his first tasks would be to fill the many positions at the State Department left vacant under Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil chief executive who Trump fired in March over policy differences.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters