Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Worldwide Threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, US, February 13, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday, just three days after he was sworn into office on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, he flew to Brussels for a Friday meeting at NATO headquarters. On Saturday he plans to visit Saudi Arabia for meetings with King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. He will also speak with with Jordan's King Abudullah during his regional visit that ends on Monday.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, he is expected to speak with Netanyahu about regional issues such as Iran and Syria.
Washington is in the process of working with European allies France, Germany and Britain on toughening the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.
In a State Department press briefing Friday, Pompeo reaffirmed US President Donald Trump plans to exit the nuclear deal absent changes that would salvage the pact from his administration's perspective.
"Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the flaws of the deal, [Trump] is unlikely to stay in that deal," Pompeo said.
Pompeo opposed the Iran nuclear accord while in Congress and has said during his confirmation he was open to fixing, rather than blowing apart, the pact, which many in the West believe is essential to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
Upon his arrival in Brussels Pompeo told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: ”I was sworn in yesterday afternoon, hopped on a plane, and came straight here. There’s good reason for that. The work that’s being done here today is invaluable."
“Our objectives are important, and this mission matters an awful lot to the United States of America and the president very much wanted me to get here, and I’m glad we were able to make it, and I look forward to a productive visit here today,” he added.
European allies saw his immediate arrival in Brussels as a strong support for an institution that Trump once called obsolete.
In a closed door meeting, Pompeo and fellow foreign ministers of the military pact forged a consensus on the need for a response to "Russian aggression," a US official said, adding that Pompeo pressed allies to raise military budgets.
Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a loyal supporter of Trump with hawkish views. But on Russia those views are largely shared by European allies because of Moscow's 2014 seizure of Crimea.
Pompeo's presence at NATO was seen as crucial as the alliance prepares for a July 11-12 summit in Brussels where NATO leaders are set to agree a new deterrent to Moscow, including a command to defend the Atlantic in the case of conflict.
Even before his confirmation on Thursday, the former CIA director was already involved in U.S. diplomacy, although this is first meeting at NATO, an organization founded on defense against the threat from the former Soviet Union.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said NATO needed to respond to what the West says is the Kremlin's mix of not just the conventional military threat but covert and cyber warfare.
"One of the key things we're doing is looking again at ... how we strengthen our collective response to the kind of hybrid attacks that so many NATO allies are experiencing from Russia," he told reporters.
"There was consensus on Russian aggression, the scale of Russian aggression and this being a problem that requires a response," said a US official present at the closed-door session, adding that decisions on the issue will be left to NATO leaders.
Pompeo pressed allies to increase their military budgets to meet a target of two percent of economic output spent on defense every year by 2024, as well as ensuring 20 percent of the outlay is on equipment, a US official said.
The issue is sensitive to Europeans because the region is recovering from a long economic crisis and defense spending is less of a priority. But the United States insists that allies, especially Germany, pay their fair share of defending Europe.
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