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Mike Pompeo, Wasting No Time, Meets With NATO

Posted April 27, 2018 11:11 a.m. EDT

BRUSSELS — A day after he was sworn in as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday morning with some words his hosts eagerly wanted to hear as he started a four-day, four-nation trip that will include talks with top allies about Russian aggression and the Iran nuclear deal.

President Donald Trump has given European leaders reasons to question his support for NATO, but in a brief welcome ceremony with Jens Stoltenberg, thealliance’s secretary-general, Pompeo emphasized that his presence should be taken as an endorsement.

“I was sworn in yesterday afternoon, I hopped straight on a plane and came straight here,” Pompeo said. “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.”

Trump has frequently been critical of NATO, and his expressions of support appeared to be made grudgingly: He reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which requires that it defend any NATO members that are attacked, only after having first pointedly refused to do so.

Pompeo is now the United States’ top diplomat, but he was recently the head of the CIA. He was also once a tank commander in Europe dedicated to deterring Russian aggression, and his visit comes with the Russian threat looming large on the Continent.

In the past four years, Russia has annexed Crimea, intervened in Ukraine, interfered in the U.S. presidential election and supported the government of President Bashar Assad of Syria. The poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy has been widely attributed to Moscow, galvanizing much of Europe, and Pompeo is in Brussels to support NATO’s efforts to prepare for worse.

Pompeo, however, will also reiterate Trump’s frequent complaints that some NATO members are not spending enough on their own defense, and the alliance will discuss its unsuccessful efforts to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The secretary of state will fly Saturday to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he will meet King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. On Sunday, he will travel to Israel, where he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he will then go to Amman, Jordan, for talks with King Abdullah II. He is scheduled to return home Monday.

The trip comes two weeks before Trump’s self-imposed deadline of May 12 to decide whether to remain in the Iran nuclear agreement, which imposes curbs on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Although Trump signaled Tuesday that he was open to a new arrangement with European allies that would preserve the accord, he has declined to publicly commit to the current agreement, which he has described as the “worst deal ever.”

“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th, although Mr. president, you have a pretty good idea,” he said in an appearance Tuesday with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who winked at him in reply.

In the wake of the meeting with Macron, some European diplomats have grown increasingly pessimistic that Washington will remain in the accord. Their efforts have instead focused on ensuring that Iran does not back out, which officials in Tehran say is a possibility if the United States withdraws.

For European leaders, Iran’s presence in the agreement is far more important than that of the United States.

Pompeo owes his job in part to the fact that his predecessor, Rex W. Tillerson, supported the nuclear accord, which put him at odds with Trump. Pompeo spoke about the deal in derisive terms when he was a congressman from Kansas, and he once said the answer to the Iranian nuclear program was 2,000 bombing sorties.

Pompeo struck a more moderate tone during his confirmation hearings, saying he would work to preserve the accord.