Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Secretary Of State Pompeo Meets With Allies, Offers Tough Talk On Iran


We're going to begin the program today in the Middle East, where the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has been meeting with allies and talking tough on Iran. Pompeo predicted that President Trump will likely walk away from the nuclear deal that President Obama previously signed. He said that the deal has not improved Iran's behavior in the region. The message heartened Pompeo's Saudi and Israeli hosts, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The schedule was tight during a brief stop in Israel. So at the last minute, Pompeo skipped a planned trip to Jerusalem. Instead, he stayed in Tel Aviv, where he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the defense ministry. High on the agenda was Iran and the fate of the nuclear deal.


MIKE POMPEO: President Trump's been pretty clear. This deal is very flawed. He's directed the administration to try fix it. And if we can't fix it, he's going to withdraw from the deal. It's pretty straightforward.

KELEMEN: Pompeo is pushing countries to get serious about Iran's missile program and its support for militias in the region. But the secretary of state didn't need to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: If people thought that Iran's aggression would be moderated as a result of signing the deal, the opposite has happened. And Iran is trying to gobble up one country after the other. Iran must be stopped. Its quest for nuclear bombs must be stopped. Its aggression must be stopped. And we're committed to stopping it together.

KELEMEN: Pompeo agreed. He also says the Trump administration won't ignore what he calls the vast scope of Iran's terrorism. It was a message he brought earlier in the day to Saudi Arabia, where he says the U.S.-Saudi partnership is growing.


POMPEO: President Trump came to Saudi Arabia on his first international trip. And now, I have done so on my first trip as secretary of state.

KELEMEN: Pompeo, though, was kept waiting for his late-night dinner with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He also stopped in on the king but just for about 10 minutes before heading to the airport for brief remarks, where he said countries in this region can't just wait for the U.S. to crush terrorism.


POMPEO: We all must honestly confront the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And this does indeed mean standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians.

KELEMEN: The new secretary of state says he thinks Saudi Arabia will play a larger role in stabilizing areas ISIS once controlled. Asked on board his plane today whether that meant sending Saudi troops to Syria, Pompeo was hesitant.

POMPEO: We need to make sure we get it right. This is literally a situation so complex. You want to measure twice and cut once, right?

KELEMEN: Eventually, he hopes it will not be America alone working on this but rather with regional partners. As for Iran, the secretary of state told us the Saudis support the U.S. approach. And he brushed off concerns that pulling out of the nuclear deal will make it harder to negotiate with North Korea.

POMPEO: I don't think Kim Jung Un is staring at that Iran deal and saying, oh, goodness, if they get out of that deal, I won't talk to the Americans anymore.

KELEMEN: Pompeo went on a secret mission to Pyongyang to size up the North Korean leader. That was when he was CIA chief before he was confirmed as secretary of state.

He jokes that he hasn't even been to his new office yet. He raced instead to Europe and the Middle East. He's now in Jordan, another important regional ally. What's not on his schedule are any meetings with Palestinians. They've been shunning Trump administration officials ever since the U.S. decided to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Amman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.