Mike Pompeo, the nominee for U.S. secretary of state, on Thursday told senators that his experience as an officer in the U.S. military serving in West Germany during the Cold War had given him a unique understanding of the value of diplomacy.
The current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who will take the place of Rex Tillerson if confirmed, said he intended to achieve U.S. President Donald Trump's goals through diplomacy rather than militarily.
Pompeo recalled the diplomatic work he witnessed on both sides, while serving as an officer on one of the front lines of the Cold War.
"I know some of you have read the story is I'm a hawk, I'm a hardliner," Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing. "There's no one like someone who served in uniform who understands the value of diplomacy and the terror and tragedy that is war."
He had strong words for Russia however, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the reason behind current tense relations is "caused by Russian bad behavior." Director Pompeo said President Trump's national security strategy "has identified Russia as a danger to our country," while emphasizing that diplomatic efforts with Moscow must continue, adding that years of "soft policy" toward that aggression are now over.
Pompeo's confirmation hearing comes as tensions between Washington and Moscow have increased over a suspected chemical attack in Syria and the president's threat of a strong U.S., if not multi-national military response, which could possible including both France and the United Kingdom.
The United States has also expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain after the poisoning of former Russian spy-turned-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Britain has blamed Russia for the incident. Russia has responded accordingly by expelling a more-or-less equal number of European and American diplomats.
Pompeo revealed that he has been interviewed in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election. He declined to provide details, but said he cooperated fully in the investigation.
Relations with other major world powers, including China, were also raised at the hearing. China "certainly presents a strategic challenge" to the U.S., Pompeo said. He would look for "the right place to cooperate" with China if confirmed as secretary of state, with the idea of making sure it is an American and democratic vision that informs the relationship. He also expressed appreciation for Beijing's backing in pressuring Pyongyang, "but it must do more."
President Trump expects to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in May or June and reach a deal on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, which Pompeo said is the worst security threat the U.S. currently faces in his view.
Pompeo, 54, who has been highly critical of Iran's nuclear deal with six world powers, was also questioned about the deal, which was agreed to in 2015 and meant to constrain Tehran's ability to make nuclear weapons for at least 15 years.
Tehran "has paid too low a price for its dangerous behavior," Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. and its allies must deal with the long-term risks of Iran's proliferation threat.
Senators pressed Pompeo to clarify what he would do to achieve Trump's goal of "fixing" the deal by May 12 when he must decide whether to extend waivers that keep the U.S. in compliance.
"I will recommend to the president that we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and a better deal," he said. "Even after May 12 ... there's still much diplomatic work to be done."
Asked about President Trump's decision to leave the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, Pompeo said he shared the president's position, who had argued that the agreement gives free reign to developing nations such as India and China, which are the biggest producers of pollution by far, while it further restricts the abilities of other already developed nations to develop their industries. These apparent inequalities had prompted the president to the deem the treaty "unfair." And that it would impose "draconian financial and economic burdens."
"The Paris Agreement put an undue burden on the United States of America," Pompeo said. "We should work to find a place where that is not the case, and when that moment arrives, we will be part of that discussion and re-enter that agreement."
The committee is expected to vote soon on the nomination and move it to the floor of the Senate where it is expected to reach the 50-vote threshold.
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