On first day, Pompeo charms NATO but warns on Iran, defense spending

BRUSSELS, April 27 (Reuters) - Barely 12 hours after being sworn in as U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo went straight to NATO headquarters on Friday in what European allies saw as strong support for an institution that U.S. President Donald Trump once called obsolete.

In a day of closed-door meetings with NATO foreign ministers, Pompeo appeared to charm European allies with tough talk on Russia and a more sure-footed approach than his predecessor Rex Tillerson, but he still carried Trump's familiar demand for higher defense spending.

He also made no promises about whether his boss would stick to a 2015 accord to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb, warning instead that Trump was still likely to pull out without major changes to a deal that Europeans insist cannot be reopened.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mike Pompeo (L) is sworn in as CIA Director by Vice President Mike Pence (R) as wife Susan Pompeo (2nd L) looks on at Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pompeo was confirmed for the position by the Senate this evening.

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UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Committee's report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., also appears. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Pompeo is seeking to reassure senators that he can shift from an outspoken policymaker to an objective spy chief if confirmed.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination of to be become director of the CIA at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) finishes swearing in Mike Pompeo, flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the vice president's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo gets a hug from supporter Jennifer O'Connor after arriving at the Sedgwick County Republican headquarters at Market Centre in Wichita, Kansas, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

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Adam Schiff (D-CA) left, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) center, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) listens as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) speaks during his confirmation hearing to be the director of the CIA before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., speaks during the news conference before a group of House Republican freshmen walked to the Senate to deliver a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. The letter called on the Senate to pass a long term continuing resolution with spending cuts.

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US Congressman Mike Pompeo (C), R-Kansas, sits in the dark after a power failure with US Senator Pat Roberts (L), a former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and former US Senator Bob Dole (R), R-Kansas, as he prepares to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 12, 2017, on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Trump administration.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., center, nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., right, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during Pompeo's Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 12, 2017. The hearing was moved from Hart Building due to a peer outage.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Incoming Trump administration cabinet secretary nominees including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson (L-R), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis arrive for meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo (2nd L), flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo (2nd R) and their son Nick Pompeo (R), signs his affidavit of appointment after being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) in Pence's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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"There's been no decision, so the team is working and I am sure we will have lots of conversations to deliver what the president has made clear," Pompeo told a news conference in which he said he discussed the Iran deal with counterparts.

"Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal," Pompeo said.

Pompeo, who once suggested the answer to Tehran's nuclear program was 2,000 bombing sorties, said he expected to discuss the issue during the rest of his trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.

 

"MEET THE GOALS"

In Brussels, Pompeo pressed allies to meet a NATO target of spending 2 percent of economic output, as well as 20 percent of that on military equipment, saying it would be a central part of an alliance summit on July 11-12 that Trump is set to attend.

At a NATO summit in Wales in 2014, months after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, allies agreed to end years of defense cuts that left Europeans without vital capabilities, such as refueling airborne fighter bombers.

But Trump has gone further, scolding European leaders in Brussels last year at NATO that certain allies owed "massive amounts of money" to the United States and NATO — even though allied contributions are voluntary, with multiple budgets.

NATO Europe's spending is rising again and Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has been increasing its defense budget, which will see its spending quota rise to 1.3 percent next year.

Asked if Germany was doing enough to reach the NATO 2 percent spending target, Pompeo said: "No ... (Germany) should meet the goals that they agreed to ... that's the expectation, not only for Germany but for everyone."

"We're hopeful that at the NATO summit that every NATO partner will deliver a credible plan to achieve that goal."

 

CONSENSUS ON RUSSIA

Still, Pompeo was quick to praise NATO as "invaluable" just minutes after getting off his plane, in his first meeting of the day, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a sharp contrast to Trump's earlier rebuke of the alliance.

"There's no more fitting destination for my first foreign trip," Pompeo later told reporters.

Despite European confusion about Trump's foreign policy and his "America First" rhetoric, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said it was "impressive to come here one night after being inaugurated. It's an impressive start."

Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a loyal supporter of Trump with hawkish views. But on Russia those views are largely shared by European allies because of Moscow's seizure of Crimea.

NATO allies believe the alliance needs to respond to what the West says is the Kremlin's mix of not just the conventional military threat but covert and cyber warfare.

The NATO foreign ministers meeting follows the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian agent in Britain, and Western air strikes against Russia-allied Syria, which the United States accused of a chemical attack in Douma on April 7.

"When I was a young soldier, it was T72 tanks and T60 tanks rolling across the then East German plain. Today, it's different," he said, recalling the Cold War.

"There were a lot of ideas, an enormous consensus of the risk those hybrid it poses to the West," he said of the NATO meeting. "There is a real commitment to work together to mitigate those risks and deter them," he said. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Robin Emmott; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

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