CIA's Pompeo brings insider's touch to secretary of state role

The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia in a 2016 file

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, if confirmed as the next secretary of state, would bring a number of assets to his new role as the top USA diplomat: the confidence of President Donald Trump, government experience and an insider's knowledge of Congress and the federal bureaucracy.

The biggest shakeup of Mr Trump's cabinet since he took office in January 2017 was announced by the president on Twitter as his administration prepares for an unprecedented meeting with the leader of North Korea.

Pompeo's replacement at the Central Intelligence Agency will be Gina Haspel, notable for her prominent role in overseeing the torture of detainees in Thailand in 2002 in the early fight against al Qaeda.

Unlike Tillerson, a former businessman who lacked government experience when Trump picked him previous year as secretary of state, Pompeo is well aware of the ways of Washington.

Tillerson's head was on the chopping block - as is everyone's in the Trump circle - from literally the day he took the job, given the President's style and mercurial temperament.

While Tillerson has been critical of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and its intervention from Ukraine to Syria, Pompeo has at times bolstered Trump's view that inquiries into Russian election meddling is a "witch hunt" meant to undercut his presidency.

"We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things", Trump told reporters. "When you look at the Iran deal - I think it's bad". He added that the former Exxon Mobil CEO "had every intention of staying" in the job because he felt he was making critical progress in national security.

It appeared the last straw was Tillerson's statement that Russia was "clearly" behind a chemical weapons attack on British soil last week targeting a Russian double agent.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.


Mr Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Mr Trump's announcement.

The move comes less than a week after the Trump administration agreed to a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Diplomats responded cautiously to the new secretary of state nominee.

He appeared out of the loop last week when Trump announced he had accepted Kim's invitation to meet before the end of May. "A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well".

Tillerson's departure marks the latest in a flood of turnover in Trump's inner circle, including the exits of national security advisor Mike Flynn, strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus, top economic advisor Gary Cohn, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, and White House communications director Hope Hicks.

In December, the secretary of state departed from administration talking points when he offered to begin direct talks with Pyongyang without preconditions.

But the White House distanced itself from those remarks, and a few days later, Mr Tillerson himself backed off.

"Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"

The Federation Council's International Affairs Committee deputy chairman Vladimir Dzhabarov said that Pompeo "may have the chance to become a man who will stop our relations from dropping rock-bottom", the RBC business portal reported. Qatar calls these charges baseless.

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