Senate approves Pompeo as US secretary of state
The US Senate voted Thursday to approve former CIA director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state Thursday, after a bruising battle by Democrats against President Donald Trump's nominee.
The approval came in time for Pompeo to lead the US delegation to NATO foreign minister talks in Brussels this weekend and to arrange a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the coming months.
Pompeo, who Trump hailed as an "incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history," was accused by Democrats as being too bellicose and harboring anti-Muslim and homophobic sentiments.
But after barely getting the nomination past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was easily confirmed by the entire body in a vote of 57-42, with a handful of Democratic senators facing tough re-election battles voting in favor.
"He will always put the interests of America first," Trump said. "He has my trust. He has my support."
Pompeo was expected to be sworn into the key cabinet post later Thursday.
- Promises diplomacy, 'swagger' -
Pompeo replaces Rex Tillerson, the former oil executive Trump fired in March after a year of tensions with the White House over policy and turmoil in the State Department, where his cuts and aloofness alienated staff and left the body deeply demoralized.
But where Tillerson was seen as a voice for moderation in the Trump administration, Pompeo is viewed as a hawk who could combine with new White House National Security Advisor John Bolton to back Trump's aggressive posturing on the world stage.
Democrats challenged Pompeo on his hawkish views in a confirmation hearing earlier this month.
He insisted his focus will be on diplomatic solutions to problems, while pledging to bring "swagger once again" to the State Department.
"One of the many values of robust diplomacy is that it increases our chances of solving problems peacefully, without ever firing a shot," Pompeo said.
"War is always the last resort. I would prefer achieving the president's foreign policy goals with unrelenting diplomacy rather than by sending young men and women to war."
Despite his conservative religious background, he also insisted his record at the CIA was one of openness toward Muslim and gay and lesbian employees, though a number of Democrats said he was not convincing.
- Secret North Korea trip -
A veteran who graduated first in his class at the elite US Military Academy at West Point, and later earned a law degree from Harvard, the 54-year-old served four terms as a Republican congressman from Kansas before Trump tapped him to head the Central Intelligence Agency last year.
There, he promised a more "vicious" intelligence operation, making unapologetically menacing statements toward North Korea and Iran.
He also earned Trump's ear in regular intelligence briefings at the White House, accommodating Trump's desire for simplified, visual presentations rather than detailed texts on the world's security dangers.
Behind the scenes, he made numerous trips abroad to meet foreign political and security leaders, especially in the Middle East.
He also took the lead in creating a dialogue with North Korea as Pyongyang demonstrated its theoretical ability to strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
In late March, Pompeo secretly traveled to Pyongyang, where he met with Kim to discuss what could become a historic summit between the two countries possibly as early as in May.
"He's the perfect person to come in at this time and lead those efforts diplomatically," Republican Senator Bob Corker said ahead of the vote.
© 2018 AFP