Pompeo out of sync with Trump on North Korea

Perhaps no Trump administration official is more invested than Mike Pompeo in the U.S. effort to strike a nuclear deal with North Korea.

The new secretary of state has been President Donald Trump’s point man on dealing with Pyongyang. He has traveled twice to meet with North Korea’s reclusive leader and intends to lead the U.S. side of any future nuclear negotiation.

Yet this week Pompeo found himself in a spot all-too-familiar to other Trump aides: out of sync with the president.

On Wednesday, a day after Trump suggested that his planned June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “may not work out,” Pompeo assured U.S. lawmakers that the meeting is “still scheduled” for June 12 and that the administration was pressing forth with ambitious plans to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear program.

“Our eyes are wide open to the Continue reading “Pompeo out of sync with Trump on North Korea”

Pompeo says Trump-Kim summit still set for June 12

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “still scheduled for June 12,” despite suggestions by Trump that the historic gathering could be delayed.

Pompeo spoke about the preparations on Wednesday morning during an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the U.S. will push Pyongyang for an agreement that will lead toward “the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
“We’re optimistic that we can achieve an outcome that will be great for the world,” Pompeo said.

On Tuesday, alongside visiting South Korean president Moon Jae-in, Trump sowed doubts about the meeting, which is supposed to be held in Singapore.

“It may not work out for June 12,” Mr. Trump said. “If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later.”

Pompeo sounded more optimistic. He has met on at least two occasions with Kim. Continue reading “Pompeo says Trump-Kim summit still set for June 12”

Nikki Haley’s Twitter account raises protocol concerns

Ever since she took over as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley’s personal Twitter account has been an object of fascination for the diplomatic set.

On the @nikkihaley handle, the rising Republican star posts pictures of her dearest friends and showers love on her dog, Bentley. But she also denounces Russian actions in Syria and chides U.N. nations for voting against the United States.

And then there are the many music recommendations. “It’s a Journey kind of morning. @JourneyOfficial #DontStopBelievin #LifeIsBetterWithMusic,” Haley wrote Thursday.

The juxtaposition of silly and serious has produced eye-rolling among U.N. diplomats. But analysts and former U.S. officials say Haley’s Twitter account — which she has used for nearly a decade — is indicative of another problem: Some U.S. diplomats are flouting State Department rules barring the use of personal social media accounts to make official statements.

Continue reading “Nikki Haley’s Twitter account raises protocol concerns”

Pompeo to lay out new strategy for Iran

Now that it has quit the Iran nuclear deal and angered its European allies, the Trump administration is ready to start talking about a Plan B.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will deliver a speech Monday at the Heritage Foundation that lays out a “comprehensive strategy” for what the United States, European countries and others can do to rein in Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear activities, officials said.

The speech will come nearly two weeks after President Donald Trump announced that the United States was quitting the Iran deal. How European leaders react to it will offer a measure of the strength of U.S.-European ties, which have been badly strained in the Trump era.

Brian Hook, a senior adviser to Pompeo, said the Trump administration views the abandonment of the nuclear deal as an “opportunity,” not a self-inflicted wound, as other world leaders have suggested.

“We need a new Continue reading “Pompeo to lay out new strategy for Iran”

Pompeo tells U.S. diplomats Trump ‘understands the power of diplomacy’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants U.S. diplomats to know that President Donald Trump “values and understands the power of diplomacy,” an assurance that comes as he pledges to help the State Department regain its “swagger.”

Pompeo made the remarks Wednesday at Foggy Bottom during his first town hall since he became secretary in late April, replacing the unpopular Rex Tillerson. Media access was limited, but the department released excerpts of Pompeo’s opening statement – comments that also showed how the former head of the CIA is trying to distinguish himself from his predecessor.

According to those excerpts, Pompeo declared it would be “silly” for him to lay out a “grand strategy” for the department – “I have too much to learn.” But, unlike what Tillerson did in his first town hall, Pompeo avoided going through a country-by-country checklist of threats and opportunities, telling the audience: “You Continue reading “Pompeo tells U.S. diplomats Trump ‘understands the power of diplomacy’”

Trump’s Jerusalem bet defies direst predictions

When President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promised last December to move the U.S. Embassy there, the predictions of violence came fast and furious.

"Trump’s Jerusalem Plan Is a Deadly Provocation," read one headline. "Any second this place could be set on fire," said a Jerusalem police official. The State Department urged diplomats abroad to heighten security ahead of Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement.

Despite visible anger and some localized violence after Trump unveiled his decision, the region did not go up in flames. No embassies were stormed. The reaction was surprisingly muted — especially in Arab countries whose leaders have long supported Palestinian claims on Jerusalem.

Some analysts believe Trump’s decision made an already moribund peace process all but impossible to revive. His administration also isn’t expected to unveil its peace proposal for the Israelis and Palestinians anytime soon. Still, among Trump allies, the tense calm Continue reading “Trump’s Jerusalem bet defies direst predictions”

Trump frees some jailed Americans overseas — but endangers others

In one 24-hour span this week, President Donald Trump managed to do two strangely contradictory things: He won the release of three imprisoned Americans while seeking a nuclear deal with North Korea. But he also likely prolonged the captivity of several other Americans by quitting a nuclear deal with Iran.

Hours before Trump triumphantly welcomed the men released by North Korea early Thursday morning, a relative of two U.S. citizens held in Iran pleaded with Trump not to forget his family amid spiking tensions between the countries.

The contrasting dramas underscore the complex and emotionally wrenching role that prisoners and hostages can play in foreign policy decisions — a dynamic likely to haunt Trump’s presidency as it has those of all his modern predecessors. More than a dozen Americans are believed imprisoned in at least three countries on what human rights advocates call baseless charges. As president, Trump, who Continue reading “Trump frees some jailed Americans overseas — but endangers others”

Trump mutes his attacks on North Korea’s ‘depraved’ policies

Before he agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump called him a vicious human rights abuser — “a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.” He has described a “horror of life” that is “so complete that citizens … would rather be slaves than live in North Korea.” To his State of the Union address in January, Trump invited a North Korean defector — an amputee who’d fled the country on a set of crutches that he defiantly raised for the cameras as Trump hailed his escape from the “depraved” regime.

Now, as Trump prepares for an unprecedented meeting with Kim to discuss eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, he has dropped that tough rhetoric and shown no sign that the human rights of North Korea’s citizens will play a role in the talks.

Hoping to change that, a dozen rights Continue reading “Trump mutes his attacks on North Korea’s ‘depraved’ policies”

White House gears up to push CIA nominee as concerns mount

The Trump administration was prepared Sunday to push ahead with Gina Haspel’s planned confirmation hearing this week to lead the CIA, despite mounting questions about her tenure at the spy agency.

Haspel was being put through the paces ahead of Wednesday’s Senate hearing, administration officials said, including sitting in on preparation sessions and continuing her visits with senators this week.

“Those who know the true Gina Haspel — who worked with her, who served with her, who helped her confront terrorism, Russia and countless other threats to our nation — they almost uniformly support her,” CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said in a statement Sunday.

He added: “When the American people finally have a chance to see the true Gina Haspel on Wednesday, they will understand why she is so admired and why she is and will be a great leader for this agency.”

Haspel, an agency veteran with numerous Continue reading “White House gears up to push CIA nominee as concerns mount”

Pompeo faces a hiring obstacle course

Having secured his own job as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo faces a tough new question: Who can he get to work for him?

Pompeo has inherited an unusual number of vacancies at Foggy Bottom and U.S. embassies and has promised to fill them quickly. Some names are already circulating for the more than 70 positions now open. But, like his ousted predecessor, Rex Tillerson, Pompeo faces major obstacles.

One is that the White House has blackballed dozens of Republican foreign affairs experts who signed “Never Trump” letters in 2016 or who otherwise criticized President Donald Trump.

Many other conservatives may simply not wish to join the administration or are unqualified for the available positions. The Foreign Service also is pressing Pompeo to choose career diplomats whenever possible, especially for sensitive ambassadorships.

Combine those factors with a slow-grinding Senate confirmation process, and it could be another year before Pompeo’s Continue reading “Pompeo faces a hiring obstacle course”

Pompeo introduces himself to U.S. diplomats

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday formally greeted the diplomats he now oversees, admitting that he has “a great deal to learn” about their work but praising their patriotism and promising he won’t be an aloof leader.

Pompeo, who succeeds the widely unpopular Rex Tillerson as America’s chief diplomat, spoke briefly to a packed house in the C Street lobby of the department’s main building. Although he was confirmed last Thursday, Pompeo immediately went on a trip to meet with NATO and Middle Eastern allies, so Tuesday was his first full day in Foggy Bottom.

U.S. Foreign and Civil Service officers cheered and clapped as the former congressman and CIA director arrived in the building.

“I feel like I know you,” Pompeo told the audience. “You’re patriots and great Americans.”

Pompeo said President Donald Trump will visit the department on Wednesday for a ceremonial swearing-in of Continue reading “Pompeo introduces himself to U.S. diplomats”

Chatty Pompeo strikes early contrast with reclusive Tillerson

Mike Pompeo, the new secretary of state, is leaning hard into the side of the job his predecessor seemed to hate the most: public relations.

Within hours of being confirmed last week, Pompeo took along several journalists on a trip to Europe and the Middle East, answering their questions in public and private, and appearing Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” He’s planning a town hall meeting with State Department staff soon. And he may even start tweeting.

The moves are in many ways a return to tradition for a secretary of state, a high-profile position where words are the most powerful tool. But they stand in marked contrast to the man Pompeo replaced, Rex Tillerson, whose early lack of visibility caused lingering damage to his reputation inside the Trump administration and beyond.

“It signals that, unlike Tillerson, Pompeo recognizes some of the basic things he needs to do Continue reading “Chatty Pompeo strikes early contrast with reclusive Tillerson”

Pompeo’s diplomatic foray falls flat

Mike Pompeo had his best chance yet Thursday to win over skeptical Democrats. But after hours of tough questions at his confirmation hearing, he had changed no new minds in his bid to become secretary of state.

Amid a series of difficult Senate confirmation fights facing President Donald Trump, including for new chiefs of the CIA and VA, Pompeo’s nomination was supposed to be the easy one.

But despite myriad global challenges and a desire to repair a department upended by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Democrats aren’t ready to make things so simple for Trump or Pompeo. Particularly when it came to Russia, North Korea and Iran, Pompeo’s answers left them cold.

“I wanted to understand what he, as the secretary of state — if he got confirmed — would be advocating as the strategy on these issues,” Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Foreign Relations Committee’s Continue reading “Pompeo’s diplomatic foray falls flat”

Pompeo asks Clinton for advice as he preps for confirmation battle

As a sharply partisan Republican member of Congress, CIA Director Mike Pompeo tormented former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her response to the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which Pompeo called “morally reprehensible.” He also once liked a tweet that branded her successor, John Kerry, a “traitor.”

But now that Pompeo faces a tough confirmation process to become secretary of state himself, he has reached out to Clinton and Kerry, as well as every other living occupant of the office, to ask for guidance. Clinton, for one, has been willing to help.

“These were lengthy calls seeking advice” from the former secretaries, a person familiar with Pompeo’s prep work told POLITICO. “He understands the gravity of the challenge before him.”

While juggling his day job at the CIA, the person said, Pompeo has been participating in briefing sessions at the State Department, reading thick stacks Continue reading “Pompeo asks Clinton for advice as he preps for confirmation battle”

Rex Tillerson’s $12 million army of consultants

It was one of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s core goals: radically reshaping the State Department to make it leaner, cheaper and modernized to the standards of a former private-sector CEO.

Now that Tillerson has been fired, the vaunted "Redesign" initiative he launched faces an uncertain future, but at least one clear legacy: around $12 million dollars spent just for private consultants who in some cases charged the State Department more than $300 an hour.

The figures, included in materials obtained by POLITICO and confirmed in part by a State Department spokesperson, have not previously been reported. Most of the money has gone to the consulting firm Deloitte as part of a pre-existing federal contract whose ceiling was lifted to $265 million, an indication of the redesign’s ambitions.

As many as 90 consultants worked on the project, according to one document. Many of the consultants have spent extensive time at Continue reading “Rex Tillerson’s $12 million army of consultants”

Bolton and Pompeo might unleash Trump on ‘radical Islam’

The latest shifts on President Donald Trump’s foreign policy team, including his choice of John Bolton as national security adviser, have rekindled fears among lawmakers and activists that the White House will further damage America’s precarious standing in the Muslim world.

Bolton chairs an organization that produces harshly critical commentary about Islam and Muslim immigrants and he also has close ties to controversial activists often described as anti-Muslim. He succeeds Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who urged Trump to avoid a favorite phrase — “radical Islamic terrorism” — because it offends many Muslims as a blanket condemnation of their faith.

Trump also decided this month to nominate Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, as secretary of state, replacing the fired Rex Tillerson. Pompeo has accused U.S. Muslim leaders of being “potentially complicit” in terrorist attacks and, like Bolton, has consorted with conspiracy theorists who have peddled false claims about Continue reading “Bolton and Pompeo might unleash Trump on ‘radical Islam’”

Tillerson’s ouster prolongs limbo for empty State Department jobs

President Donald Trump’s decision to dump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will likely mean further delays in filling dozens of empty posts at the State Department, undermining U.S global diplomacy at an unusually sensitive time.

Foreign governments are already unsure who is shaping American policy, whom they should contact with questions and requests, and how to handle Trump’s often unpredictable, go-it-alone approach to world affairs. The U.S. president recently announced he would hold an unprecedented meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by the end of May; he’s also weighing the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

Some Trump aides expect Tillerson’s named replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to scratch one key Tillerson nominee: Susan Thornton, a career diplomat who had been in line to assume the State Department’s top East Asia post, dealing with China and North Korea.

The lag in filling positions is raising concern Continue reading “Tillerson’s ouster prolongs limbo for empty State Department jobs”

Emails reveal conservative alarm over ‘Obama holdovers’ in Trump administration

Two months into the Trump administration, a distraught State Department Iran expert named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh asked her new boss for help.

A conservative website had published an article depicting Nowrouzzadeh as a Barack Obama loyalist who had “burrowed into the government” under Trump, and even had ties to the hated Iranian regime itself. Focusing on her role in the negotiation of Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, the article was headlined, “Iran deal architect is running Tehran policy at the State Dept.”

Nowrouzzadeh emailed Brian Hook, the new chief of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, where she worked on Middle East issues, to insist that the article was “filled with misinformation.” She assured Hook that, since joining the government under George W. Bush in 2005, she had always “adapted” to shifting U.S. policy priorities – as any career government staffer is expected to do. She asked Continue reading “Emails reveal conservative alarm over ‘Obama holdovers’ in Trump administration”

Top Tillerson aides resign amid State Department shuffle

Two top aides to Rex Tillerson will also be leaving the State Department by the end of the month, officials confirmed on Wednesday, in the latest fallout from President Donald Trump’s decision to fire the embattled secretary of state.

The departures of Margaret Peterlin, Tillerson’s chief-of-staff, and Christine Ciccone, his deputy chief-of-staff who was overseeing an initiative to “redesign” the State Department, will please many U.S. diplomats. Many State staffers say the two were widely disliked for severely limiting access to the secretary, sidelining career diplomats and slowing down an already cumbersome decision-making process.

For now, however, another top Tillerson aide, Brian Hook, appears to be staying in place. Hook has also spurred resentment in Foggy Bottom for using the division under his control, the Policy Planning Staff, to effectively take over many decisions and tasks traditionally left to the department’s regional and functional bureaus.

The department announced Wednesday Continue reading “Top Tillerson aides resign amid State Department shuffle”

‘Strong sense of relief’: State Department staffers react to Tillerson’s ouster

State Department employees had one main reaction to Rex Tillerson’s ouster as secretary of state on Tuesday: “Good riddance.”

President Donald Trump’s decision to fire the top U.S. diplomat sent a wave of hope through a department battered by low morale under Tillerson, who dismissed the expertise of career diplomats and sought to downsize the department.

“There is strong sense of relief at State. The last year has been traumatic to put it mildly. It was as though ‘T-Rex’ stomped through Foggy Bottom devouring staff and structures,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official.

Several current State officials said they also hope to bid farewell to Tillerson’s top aides, including chief of staff Margaret Peterlin and policy chief Brian Hook, whom they criticize for forming a protective and secretive clique around the secretary during his nearly 14-month tenure.

“People see this as a chance for a clean Continue reading “‘Strong sense of relief’: State Department staffers react to Tillerson’s ouster”