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    Representative Mike Pompeo pauses as he testifies before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination to head the CIA on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017

    Pompeo Vows to End 'Soft Policy’ on Russia as US Mulls Syria Strikes

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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - US Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo during a senate confirmation hearing declared an end to Washington’s "soft" approach towards Moscow - in addition to outlining aggressive policies on North Korea and Iran - just as the United States and Russia appear headed on a collision course over an alleged chemical attack.

    Pompeo’s comments came in front of the US Senate Foreign Relations committee on Thursday amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow fueled by a series of cryptic tweets by President Donald Trump this week, who warned Russia that military strikes against Syria would be forthcoming after the United States and many of its allies accused President Bashar Assad’s government of dropping chlorine bombs and killing civilians in Eastern Ghouta’s Duma settlement over the weekend.

    On March 13, Trump announced that he fired former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and nominated Pompeo to take his place. Pompeo has served as CIA Director since January 23, 2017.

    END OF ‘SOFT POLICY’

    Pompeo, during Thursday’s testimony, said the United States must take a harder line against Russia and intensify pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government. He called for tougher measures against Russia for allegedly interfering in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 US elections, along with alleged human rights violations.

    "Russia continues to act aggressively, enabled by years of soft policy toward that aggression," Pompeo told the senate panel. "That’s now over."

    The top diplomat nominee also provided a laundry list of accomplishments the Trump Administration has racked up to counter Moscow, including killing hundreds of Russians.

    "The list of actions that this administration has taken — I'm happy to walk through each of them," Pompeo said. "A handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match and a couple hundred Russians were killed."

    Pompeo was referring to an incident in February when the US-led coalition launched airstrikes in Syria that reportedly killed 100 pro-government troops. Moscow said while several dozens of Russian citizens were injured in the clashes, none were servicemen.

    Pompeo said the United States must do more to enforce sanctions related to the so-called Magnitsky act and Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) because Putin "has not yet received the message sufficiently."

    On April 6, the Treasury Department imposed CAATSA sanctions on 38 Russian individuals and entities, including senior government officials, for charges related to election meddling, Ukraine interference, and supporting Assad. The move came less than a month after the US government targeted Russian intelligence services with CAATSA sanctions.

    Pompeo also said the United States should continue to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons and that sanctions should remain imposed on Russia until Moscow fully complies with the Minsk agreement.

    Moscow has repeatedly warned against supplying weapons to Ukraine, saying such action would only escalate the military conflict in the country's eastern Donbas region, ongoing since 2014.

    SYRIA WAR DRUM

    In prepared remarks ahead of his testimony, Pompeo backed the Trump administration’s aggressive rhetoric in response to the incident in Duma.

    "The failed state of Syria poses a mounting threat to human rights, national security and regional stability — and it deserves an increasingly severe response," Pompeo said on Thursday.

    Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, however, during congressional testimony on Thursday, refused to confirm if an attack on Syria was "in the offing."

    "We've not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria," Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis did mention that the National Security Council had earlier met to discuss responding to the alleged chemical attack. The Pentagon will provide a full report to Congress if Trump decides to launch an air strike on Syria, Mattis said.

    As the Pentagon and the White House mull options on Syria, the nuclear aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman carrier is on its way to the region.

    The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, saying the alleged attack was staged by the terrorist group Jaish al-Islam to serve as a justification for a foreign intervention in Syria.

    The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria on Sunday categorically refuted the reports of a chemical weapons attack in Duma. The Center's representatives visited the place of the alleged attack and questioned local doctors, who said that they had not received individuals with symptoms of chemical poisoning.

    IRAN, NORTH KOREA

    Pompeo said he supports the administration’s resolve to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and backs the president’s bid to "fix" the Iran nuclear agreement.

    "There is much diplomatic work left to do, including supporting the President’s intent to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un," Pompeo said in prepared remarks released by the White House ahead of Thursday’s session. "President Trump isn’t one to play games at the negotiating table — and I won’t be either."

    Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he has never pushed for "regime change" in North Korea but also said that he could imagine a ground invasion.

    The CIA Director also backed Trump’s plan to remedy the "most egregious flaws" of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that governs Iran’s nuclear program, although Pompeo was forced to cede one point related to Iran’s compliance to the agreement.

    "With the information that I’ve been provided, I’ve seen no evidence that they are not in compliance today," Pompeo said during his nomination hearing.

    The Russian Embassy in the United States in a statement struck back at Pompeo’s allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

    "We would like to once again state that Russia does not engage in regime changes, meddling in domestic affairs of other states or masterminding staged 'revolutions.’ The US however, has mastered these techniques, as they have quite an experience in this area," the Embassy said late on Thursday.

    Several lawmakers reacted strongly to Pompeo’s testimony and rhetoric including Senator Tom Udall who said that he was concerned that the CIA Director will fail to offset the president’s "dangerous and erratic tweets" and saber-rattling which is bringing the United States closer to war.

    "After our meeting earlier this week, and the hearing today, I remain very concerned that Director Pompeo will double down on the worst of President Trump’s policies," Udall said in a press release on Thursday. "Pompeo will validate and encourage the president’s worst and most dangerous instincts, and for that reason, I will oppose his nomination."

    National Iranian American Council Executive Director Jamal Abdi warned in a press release that it was clear that a vote for Pompeo was a vote for killing the Iran nuclear deal and putting Washington and Teheran on a war path.

    "Trusting Mike Pompeo to be our nation’s chief diplomat would be akin to appointing an arsonist as chief firefighter," Abdi said.

    US Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told reporters Thursday evening that he thinks members of the panel will hold a vote on Pompeo’s nomination to become US Secretary of State on April 23.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    foreign policy, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike Pompeo, Russia, Syria, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), Iran, United States
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