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United States

Mike Pompeo says he won’t push for regime change in North Korea as Donald Trump thanks China for helping set up meeting

‘President Trump isn’t one to play games at the negotiating table – and I won’t be either,’ Pompeo told the Senate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 11:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 1:31am

Prospective US Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo on Thursday dismissed the idea of taking down Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea, as Trump himself said a meeting would come soon. 

“I’m not advocating regime change” in North Korea, Pompeo – who is currently director of the Central Intelligence Agency and is considered a hawk on North Korea and Iran – said in his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.

In reference to a planned meeting between Trump and Kim in May or early June, Pompeo said: “President Trump isn’t one to play games at the negotiating table – and I won’t be either.” 

Separately, Trump on Thursday commended China for helping set up a meeting with Kim, a process that is ongoing.

“They have really been a great help to us at the border with North Korea,” Trump said of China. “They’ve been really terrific at helping us get to some kind of settlement. 

“Meetings are being set up right now between myself and Kim Jong-un. I think it will be terrific. I think we’ll go in with a lot of respect and we’ll see what happens.”

During his confirmation hearing, which was expected to run for several hours on Wednesday, Pompeo also criticised China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, as well as Russia’s expansionism in Ukraine and Georgia. 

Pompeo vowed not to repeat past mistakes regarding North Korea, suggesting Washington will maintain maximum pressure and sanctions until Pyongyang takes concrete action toward denuclearisation. 

“I have read the CIA histories of previous negotiations with the North Koreans, and am confident that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

The remarks were in line with Trump’s assertion that previous administrations gave North Korea too many concessions despite the country not giving up its nuclear weapon ambitions. 

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Referring to what will be the first direct engagement between a sitting American president and a North Korean leader, the CIA chief said Trump is committed to “achieve denuclearisation and prevent America from being held at risk by a North Korean arsenal of nuclear weapons.” 

Pompeo also pledged to fix the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six nations including the United States – one that has been jeopardised by Trump threatening to pull out unless a “better” deal can be struck.

Last month, Trump dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and nominated Pompeo to become his new chief diplomat. A former officer in the US Army, Pompeo served as a Republican congressman from Kansas before taking the helm of the spy agency.

Pompeo has also promised to rebuild the State Department, which has found itself sidelined in foreign policy decisions under the Trump administration and been gutted by the departure of senior diplomats. 

A reorganisation and hiring freeze initiated by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has left the rank and file demoralised, with vacancies in most of the jobs that are filled by political appointees. Pompeo said he would work quickly in his new role to fill the gaps.  

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“This is critical to strengthening the finest diplomatic corps in the world, and America and the world needs us to be that,” he said in his confirmation hearing at the Senate.  

Among the first issues Pompeo was pressed on in the hearing was whether Trump had talked to him about the Russia investigation looking into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. 

Pompeo acknowledged he had been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose federal probe includes looking into whether there was collusion with Moscow by Trump campaign aides, but he declined to discuss details. 

US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia interfered in the campaign in hopes of tilting the election in Trump’s favour. Moscow has denied the charge and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign. 

Trump has been accused by Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans of being too soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Pompeo has signalled he will take a tough line on Russia.

US President Donald Trump nominated Pompeo to become the country’s top diplomat on March 13 when he fired Tillerson. Tillerson, a former chief executive of ExxonMobil, had a rocky relationship with Trump in just over a year in the job. 

The start of Pompeo’s hearing was disrupted by half a dozen protesters chanting “No Pompeo, no more war” before they were led out by security officials. 

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One interrupted Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ opening statement. The protesters appear to be associated with the Code Pink movement. 

Just before the hearing, President Donald Trump wished Pompeo good luck on Twitter. Trump said: “He will be a great Secretary of State!”