US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is fine with labelling the leaders of Venezuela and North Korea as "tyrants", but appears to mince his words when it comes to Washington's allies.
In March, when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blocked deliveries of US humanitarian aid to the crisis-hit country, Pompeo was quick to denounce him as a "sick tyrant". On Tuesday, the Secretary of State was asked at a Senate hearing whether he would apply similar language for North Korea's Kim Jong-un.
"Sure. I'm sure I've said that," Pompeo said on Tuesday before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee while discussing the 2020 State Department budget request.
However, Pompeo refused to say the same thing about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Last year's election in Egypt, which saw al-Sisi secure a second straight landslide victory, was criticised by some as a "sham" after the incumbent's main challenger, General Sami Anan, was arrested for running for office without permission from the army, in breach of the law.
Al-Sisi has also been accused by human rights advocates, such as Human Rights Watch, of torturing and mistreating prisoners as well as cracking down on dissent — something that he denies.
"There's no doubt that it's a mean, nasty world out there. But not every one of these leaders is the same," Pompeo said when asked about his take on al-Sisi.
"Some of them are trying to wipe entire nations off the face of the Earth and others are actually partnering with us to help keep Americans safe," added Washington's chief diplomat.
"There's a difference between leaders. You might call them tyrant, you might call them authoritarian, but there's a fundamental difference, and therefore a fundamental difference in the way the United States should respond."
Mike Pompeo went on to commend Egypt's counter-terrorism efforts and tout al-Sisi as a "remarkable beacon in the Middle East for religious freedom". Despite all the praise, he threatened to invoke sanctions against the Arab Republic if it boosts its defence capabilities with Russia's help.
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump welcomed Egypt's leader at the White House. Trump called him a "great president" and made no mention of his human rights record as they spoke to reporters.
Meanwhile, US relations with Venezuela and North Korea have been patchier in recent times. Washington has repeatedly accused Nicolas Maduro of trampling on democracy and has openly endorsed the self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, who is seeking to overthrow Maduro.
As for North Korea, the Hanoi nuclear summit in February ended in a stalemate, despite Kim earlier having agreed on some steps toward walking back his nuclear programme. Days after the summit, satellite imagery emerged indicating renewed activity at the North's Sohae rocket site, triggering international alarm that the nuclear-armed state might be preparing a long-range or space launch. The two countries are looking forward to further talks.