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Secretary Of State Pompeo Addresses Key Priorities At His Swearing-In Ceremony

May 2, 2018
Originally published on May 2, 2018 9:06 pm
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President Trump seems to be trying to turn the page with U.S. diplomats who have felt sidelined and demoralized by his administration. For the first time since he's been in office, Trump went to the State Department today. And his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, spoke about historic opportunities for diplomacy with North Korea. NPR's Michele Kelemen was there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Cabinet members, top State Department officials and foreign policy experts mingled at the State Department for the first visit by President Trump. He was there for a ceremonial swearing-in of Mike Pompeo as the 70th secretary of state.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I must say, that's more spirit than I've heard from the State Department in a long time, many years.

KELEMEN: The atmosphere was definitely different than in the past year, when Trump's first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was downsizing the department. Trump hasn't said whether that will change. But he said the men and women of the State Department will soon see why he trusts Mike Pompeo.

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TRUMP: And you'll be doing things that you don't even know about. Right now they're not even a glimmer in your eye. But - and we have a couple going, Mike, right now that a lot of people don't know about.

KELEMEN: Trump is vowing to change America's immigration system and make it, in his words, the talk of the world. Pompeo spoke of, quote, "tough diplomacy elsewhere."

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MIKE POMPEO: And I will make sure America's always a respected and principal leader on the world stage.

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KELEMEN: There's a lot on his plate. The Trump administration is moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem next month and could pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, two steps likely to upset allies. Pompeo is also trying to set the stage for Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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POMPEO: Right now we have an unprecedented opportunity to change the course of history on the Korean Peninsula. I underscore the word opportunity. We're in the beginning stages of the work, and the outcome is certainly yet unknown.

KELEMEN: The secretary, who made a secret trip to Pyongyang while he was CIA director, says he's going into this with eyes wide open and with the goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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POMPEO: It's time to solve this once and for all. A bad deal is not an option. The American people are counting on us to get this right.

KELEMEN: The new secretary of state says this is a team effort. State Department officials in the room were sounding upbeat about this renewed focus on diplomacy. But many others are still in wait-and-see mode.

BRETT BRUEN: I think it's fair to say that American diplomats are still suffering from PTSD.

KELEMEN: That's Brett Bruen, a former foreign service officer who ran President Obama's office on global engagement. President Obama came to the State Department on his third day in office. And Bruen says Trump sent a very different signal by waiting over a year.

BRUEN: They have placed a premium on military options, on security options, even on intelligence-gathering and action. This has left the State Department with a sense that they're at the kids' table.

KELEMEN: Pompeo is promising to bring back what he calls the State Department's swagger. He's already gotten rid of Tillerson's hiring freeze on spouses of employees overseas. Bruen says he still wonders whether Pompeo, a former congressman and CIA director, will be an advocate for diplomacy and whether Trump will take a different view of the department. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.