World News

New Secretary of State, Wasting No Time, Warns Europe About Iran Pact

Posted April 27, 2018 6:10 p.m. EDT

BRUSSELS — On his first full day as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo traveled to Europe and delivered a warning that leaders here have come to dread: President Donald Trump will soon pull out of the Iran nuclear deal unless major changes are made.

“Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May,” Pompeo said of Trump.

Pompeo said that Trump had not made a decision on the accord, but Pompeo’s itinerary on his first overseas trip as the nation’s chief diplomat — a stop here at NATO headquarters and others in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan in the next three days — suggested he was preparing allies for a likely decision by Trump to pull out of the deal.

This week, President Emmanuel Macron of France predicted Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own for domestic reasons.” Trump has set May 12 as his deadline to announce his choice.

Pompeo’s warning came at a news conference here during which he demonstrated the characteristics that have endeared him to Trump — he was direct, with a no-nonsense approach, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

Rex W. Tillerson, Pompeo’s predecessor, had approached these trips, like much of the rest of his job, with the awkward joylessness of a cowboy walking into a fancy-dress cotillion.

Pompeo said the diplomats he spoke with were “hopeful that the State Department will get its swagger back” and that he expected to “build that esprit and to get the team on the field so that we can effectuate American diplomacy.”

Pompeo also said he welcomed the historic meeting between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader. But he made clear that the United States would not accept Moon’s proposal for an incremental process of North Korean disarmament that is accompanied by a series of concessions from the West, a step-for-step strategy that Moon has suggested could take two years to conclude.

“Our objective remains unchanged: We’re committed to permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Koreans’ weapons of mass destruction programs without delay,” Pompeo said. “Until then, the global maximum pressure campaign will continue.”

Pompeo was also blunt in his call for European countries to spend more on their own defense, something Trump has urged repeatedly. When asked whether Germany was doing enough, Pompeo said simply, “No.” And he called for all countries to create plans before a leaders’ summit meeting in July to increase military spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product, a target all NATO countries have endorsed but not all have achieved.

But he emphasized that his arrival in Brussels just hours after his own confirmation demonstrated the importance of the NATO alliance to the United States.

“This alliance has been an essential pillar of American security interests for decades,” he said. And he said Russian aggression in Georgia, Ukraine and the Middle East only made it more so.

“In light of Russia’s unacceptable actions, NATO is more indispensable than ever,” he said, and then referred to the recent poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy. “As NATO allies agree, the use of military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia on U.K. territory was a reckless action that put the lives of innocent civilians at risk.”

He added: “The United States has made abundantly clear that NATO should not return to business as usual with Russia until Moscow shows a clear change in its actions and complies with international law.”

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 directory 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.

Pompeo also met with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey on Friday to talk through a host of issues that have caused relations between the two countries to dip to their lowest point in years. Pompeo mentioned the continued detention of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor who has been in jail for about 18 months in a case that has become a cause célèbre among evangelical Christians.

The two countries are also at odds over a Turkish decision to purchase Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles as well as U.S. support for Kurdish forces fighting in Syria. Both sides said the meeting was cordial.