BRUSSELS—A day after being sworn in as the new U.S. Secretary of State, former CIA director Mike Pompeo landed in Brussels for talks with key allies in Europe on heightened Russian aggression and ways to strengthen the NATO military alliance.
Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a loyal supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Even before his confirmation on Thursday, Pompeo was already involved in U.S. diplomacy, although it will be his first meeting at NATO, an organisation founded on collective defence against the threat from the former Soviet Union.
The meeting, a preview to the leaders’ summit in July, will discuss Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Georgia and in Syria, as well as plans for increasing security along Europe’s southern frontier, a State Department official told reporters.
Pompeo will also press members of the alliance to increase their military budgets to meet a target of 2 percent of economic output on defence 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 to address Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
JUST RELEASED: Photos of Secretary of State Pompeo in North Korea. Secretary Pompeo will do an excellent job helping President Trump lead our efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. pic.twitter.com/pQ0P8hbMTN
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 26, 2018
Visiting the Middle East
As he left Washington on Thursday, the State Department said Pompeo would also visit Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel during the weekend.
He will have to quickly address a wide array of pressing international issues, including long conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as Russian assertiveness.
Washington is also working with European allies France, Germany, and Britain on toughening a 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, an issue Pompeo is expected to discuss while in Brussels.
Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing he will discuss the Iran nuclear accord and Iran’s regional influence in places like Yemen and Syria when he visits the Middle East.
On his first stop in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Pompeo will meet Saudi King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. In Jerusalem, he will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in Jordan hold talks with King Abdullah.
Senators in the Republican-controlled chamber voted 57-42 in favour of Pompeo. Six Democrats and one independent who normally votes with Democrats backed Pompeo. None of the Republicans voted no.
Pompeo’s supporters said he did well during 15 months leading the CIA, and said the United States badly needed a leader at the State Department.
He has said that among his first tasks would be to fill the many positions at the State Department left vacant under his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, a former oil executive who was Trump’s first secretary of state.
By Lesley Wroughton