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For Trump’s pick for top diplomat, no more ‘soft policy’ on Russia

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s pick for top US diplomat was to tell senators Thursday that if confirmed he will get tough on Russia, address flagging morale and fill vacancies at the State Department — in addition to helping the agency revive its “swagger.”

Mike Pompeo, currently the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was scheduled to face a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that could not come sooner, as tensions soar with Russia and Syria and a trade spat with China threatens to snowball.

“Russia continues to act aggressively, enabled by years of soft policy toward that aggression,” Mr. Pompeo says in his prepared remarks. “That’s now over.”

He has been tapped to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, in what could be one of the more consequential of many personnel shakeups since Mr. Trump took office 14 months ago.

Mr. Pompeo is a known entity for Mr. Trump, someone who briefed the president almost daily and shares a gung-ho attitude towards Iran. But in excerpts released Wednesday by the White House, Mr. Pompeo says that while Tehran has paid “too low a price” for its behavior, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump are prepared to revise the nuclear deal “to fix its most egregious flaws.”

Mindful of Mr. Tillerson’s reputation as a disengaged leader whose failure to fill critical positions at State alarmed lawmakers, Mr. Pompeo acknowledges he has heard firsthand from US diplomats about “how demoralizing it is to have so many vacancies and, frankly, not to feel relevant.”

“I’ll do my part to end the vacancies,” he says in the remarks.

The renewed sense of teamwork “will become the fabric of a State Department culture that finds its swagger once again.”

As head of the CIA, Mr. Pompeo has already been vetted by the US Senate, where 14 Democrats joined Republicans in confirming him to that post.

It appears at least one Democrat will be needed to get Mr. Pompeo successfully through the foreign relations committee with a positive recommendation.

The panel has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, and Republican Rand Paul has already expressed his opposition to Mr. Pompeo, for the latter’s support of the Iraq war and his aggressive posture against Iran.

But Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican hawk on foreign policy, said Mr. Pompeo is “the right guy at the right time” to lead State through a “dangerous” global period.

Mr. Trump has gone without a top US diplomat for nearly a month. — AFP