World Leaders Will Need To Adjust If Secretary Of State Nominee Is Confirmed

Mar 14, 2018
Originally published on March 14, 2018 9:12 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

State Department employees are getting ready for a new boss, Mike Pompeo. We're going to hear from a high-level State Department veteran in a few minutes about what she's expecting. First we're going to explore where Pompeo stands on some of the most challenging issues he's likely to encounter if he's confirmed as secretary of state. NPR's Michele Kelemen begins our coverage.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: One early test of this Cabinet shakeup will be the Iran nuclear deal, which the president doesn't like. Tillerson persuaded Trump to stay in and push for changes. But Pompeo, an Iran hawk, is much closer to Trump on this. Here's how Pompeo described the deal last year, arguing it allowed Iran to act like a bad tenant.

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MIKE POMPEO: You know, they don't pay their rent. You call them, and then they send a check. And it doesn't clear, and they send another one. This is Iranian compliance today...

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POMPEO: ...Grudging, minimalist, temporary.

KELEMEN: The former congressman from Kansas also spoke at that Aspen Institute forum about North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un.

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POMPEO: Look. There's times he does things that are completely unexplainable. And to us, it may well look irrational. But I am convinced that in some space, he understands his core mission, which is to keep himself in power.

KELEMEN: If confirmed as secretary of state, it will fall to Pompeo to prepare President Trump to meet the North Korean leader as early as May. That's the same month the president will have to weigh in again on the Iran deal. Many foreign policy experts say the U.S. needs to keep the deal in order to show North Korea that diplomacy is worthwhile. But Pompeo is likely to take an opposite view, says Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

REUEL MARC GERECHT: He looks at it more or less as just a repeat of the unsuccessful diplomacy that we've had with North Korea starting in 1994.

KELEMEN: Europeans who are committed to the Iran deal will likely be nervous about this, he says, but added that with Pompeo, what you see is what you get. And the world should already know how skeptical he is about Iran.

GERECHT: That is one of his cardinal issues. And I would expect him to focus on that fairly laser-like.

KELEMEN: Pompeo's close relationship with Trump will be a plus on the world stage, says retired diplomat Richard Boucher, but there's more to diplomacy.

RICHARD BOUCHER: He fits in with a crowd that I think tends to be quite confrontational and quite assertive about the United States. And that's fine. Every negotiation starts with, what do I want to get out of this? But at the same time, you've got to go out of your way to make sure that other people want to give you what you want.

KELEMEN: Boucher, now at Brown University, is also worried about anti-Muslim statements that Pompeo has made in the past.

BOUCHER: The president's already seen as being against most people in the world - Muslims, people who live in Third World countries. If he shares the president's prejudices, then the United States is not going to be accepted.

KELEMEN: Pompeo still needs to be confirmed by the Senate. One Republican, Rand Paul, says he will do everything he can to block Pompeo, who Paul describes as an unapologetic supporter of the Iraq War and someone who seems bent on war with Iran now, too.

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RAND PAUL: You think we can have discussions with other countries if we're advocating for regime change? You know, at least somebody needs to be advocating for diplomacy.

KELEMEN: Paul says that was something that Tillerson did, offering in a balancing point of view in this administration. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.