Pompeo to Middle East as Iran Deal Hangs in the Balance

After making his diplomatic debut in Brussels at the NATO foreign ministers meeting, new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo begins a swing through the Middle East Saturday.

The three day trip includes stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, where he is expected to brief U.S. allies on administration policy towards Iran.

Friday Pompeo said no decision has been made on whether President Donald Trump will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, adding that negotiations are ongoing.

At his first news conference in his new job, Pompeo said, “Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he [President Trump] is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May.”

Pompeo said he had discussed the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, with his NATO counterparts. The top U.S. diplomat said this issue likely would be high on the agenda when he travels to the Middle East after leaving Brussels.


Pompeo also fielded questions on countering Russian attacks on Western democracy, Ukraine,his visit to North Korea and morale at the State Department.Asked about a demoralized work force back in Washington, Pompeo said he had met with State Department officers at the NATO mission in Brussels. He said they may have been demoralized, but seemed in good spirits.

“They are hopeful that the State Department will get its swagger back, that we will be out doing the things that they came on board at the State Department to do, to be professional, to deliver American diplomacy around the world; that is my mission set.”

Pompeo indicated he would meet with State Department employees on Tuesday after returning to Washington.

Asked about his recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pompeo declined to say if Kim is stable. Pompeo did say he believes Kim is serious about a planned summit with Trump. Pompeo congratulated the Republic of Korea and North Korea on a historic meeting, and the Korean people’s aspirations for peace and prosperity.

“Let there be no doubt, we would not be where we are today without President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, and the work that has been done all around the world to apply pressure to North Korea.”

Making his first trip hours after he was confirmed sent a strong signal of U.S. support to itsNATO allies, Pompeo said:

“I hopped straight on a plane and came straight here,” Pompeo told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “There’s good reason for that. The work that’s being done here today is invaluable and our objectives are important and this mission means a lot to the United States of America.”

Pompeo said President Trump “very much wanted me to get here.”

Stoltenberg and others leaders in Brussels say they appreciated Pompeo’s quick action to attend Friday’s talks.

“I feel that that’s a great expression of the importance of the alliance and the importance we attach to the alliance and I very much look forward to talking with you, on the need to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” the NATO secretary general told Pompeo.

Stoltenberg added, “Your valued and long experience will make you a perfect person to be the top diplomat of the United States.”

International leaders and foreign policy experts will likely observe Pompeo closely in his first weeks on the job to get a read on where the United States stands, as North Korea, Syria and Iran dominate headlines.

Pompeo is said to be more “hawkish” on the Iranian government than his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who wanted the U.S. to stay in the Iran nuclear agreement.

Tillerson was abruptly fired by Trump last month, just hours after returning from a trip to Africa. Trump said he and Pompeo are much more “on the same wavelength” on Iran and other issues.

During his confirmation hearing, a number of Democratic senators expressed concern that Pompeo is too close to Trump, and may not stand up to Trump when the two disagree on policy. Republican lawmakers noted Pompeo’s close relationship to Trump will be a great asset on the world stage.

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