Pompeo heads to Israel, Mideast, Europe after taking oath

New US secretary of state en route to NATO meeting in Brussels, then on to talks with ‘key allies’ in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan

In this April 12, 2018, photo Mike Pompeo smiles after his introduction before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation for him to become the next Secretary of State on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
In this April 12, 2018, photo Mike Pompeo smiles after his introduction before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation for him to become the next Secretary of State on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Newly sworn in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will head from this week’s NATO meeting in Brussels directly on to high-level talks in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, his spokeswoman said Thursday.

Speaking on the tarmac of Joint Base Andrews in front of the secretary’s government jet as he arrived from his Supreme Court swearing in, Heather Nauert said the stops were chosen to reflect their “importance as key allies and partners in the region.”

In Brussels on Friday, Pompeo will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and participate in the NATO Foreign Ministerial meeting.

Then he will travel to Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Amman to discuss critical regional and bilateral issues, before returning to the US on April 30.

Pompeo is looking forward to meeting key allies and partners on his first official trip as secretary of state, his spokeswoman said.

The air force plane was waiting on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews as Pompeo was confirmed Thursday in a Senate vote.

The Senate vote came after a bruising battle by Democrats against US President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Pompeo, who Trump hailed as an “incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history,” was accused by Democrats as being too bellicose and harboring anti-Muslim and homophobic sentiments.

But after barely getting the nomination past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was easily confirmed by the entire body in a vote of 57-42, with a handful of Democratic senators facing tough reelection battles voting in favor.

“He will always put the interests of America first,” Trump said. “He has my trust. He has my support.”

Promises diplomacy, ‘swagger’

Pompeo replaces Rex Tillerson, the former oil executive Trump fired in March after a year of tensions with the White House over policy and turmoil in the State Department, where his cuts and aloofness alienated staff and left the body deeply demoralized.

US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint press conference with Jordanian foreign minister in Amman on February 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)

But where Tillerson was seen as a voice for moderation in the Trump administration, Pompeo is viewed as a hawk who could combine with new White House National Security Adviser John Bolton to back Trump’s aggressive posturing on the world stage.

Democrats challenged Pompeo on his hawkish views in a confirmation hearing earlier this month.

He insisted his focus will be on diplomatic solutions to problems, while pledging to bring “swagger once again” to the State Department.

“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. “War is always the last resort. I would prefer achieving the president’s foreign policy goals with unrelenting diplomacy rather than by sending young men and women to war.”

Despite his conservative religious background, he also insisted his record at the CIA was one of openness toward Muslim and gay and lesbian employees, though a number of Democrats said he was not convincing.

Secret North Korea trip

A veteran who graduated first in his class at the elite US Military Academy at West Point, and later earned a law degree from Harvard, the 54-year-old served four terms as a Republican congressman from Kansas before Trump tapped him to head the Central Intelligence Agency last year.

There, he promised a more “vicious” intelligence operation, making unapologetically menacing statements toward North Korea and Iran.

He also earned Trump’s ear in regular intelligence briefings at the White House, accommodating Trump’s desire for simplified, visual presentations rather than detailed texts on the world’s security dangers.

Behind the scenes, he made numerous trips abroad to meet foreign political and security leaders, especially in the Middle East.

He also took the lead in creating a dialogue with North Korea as Pyongyang demonstrated its theoretical ability to strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

In late March, Pompeo secretly traveled to Pyongyang, where he met with Kim to discuss what could become a historic summit between the two countries possibly as early as in May.

“He’s the perfect person to come in at this time and lead those efforts diplomatically,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said ahead of the vote.

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