New Secretary of State, Same Course

On March 13, US President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, having him replaced with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. According to Valdai Club expert Angela Stent, this decision was far from being a surprise, and the nation’s foreign policy will remain much of the same. 

“There were some rumors that Mr Tillerson was going to leave the State Department,” Stent, director of the Georgetown University Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, said in an interview with “Apparently, he and president Trump disagreed on a number of issues – the question of the Iran deal, the question of whether president Trump should meet the leader of North Korea or should pursue a more militaristic policy. So the fact that he is leaving is not very surprising, but nobody knows about the timing, why it happens now. Some people would say that it had to do with the remarks he did on Russia, but that was only yesterday, and my understanding is that he was called back from the trip to Africa, and came back on Sunday – so that was before he made any remarks. I would be surprised if it had to do with that.” 

Mike Pompeo has developed a good relationship with President Trump, Stent said. “He daily gives him intelligence briefings, which is not how it stands usually, lower-level people do that. I would say that he would be more ‘Trumpian’ in most of the policy. He has not said anything that would make one think differently. I think he has indicated in the testimony that he is also very skeptical about the Iran deal. It seems to me that there will not be very much change in the policy that is now”. 

One of the key questions concerning this shift is whether it will affect the meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un planned to take place before May. “I think that firstly they have to work out the agenda, they have to agree where it is going to be,” Stent said. “As far as I know, North Korean leadership has not actually talked about this at all, so the only people who talked about it are South Koreans, president Trump himself and people around him. I would say that the meeting would go ahead if the US side gets the guarantees before the meeting. We have already heard yesterday from President Trump’s spokesperson that if North Koreans do not agree before the meeting that they have to give up their nuclear program, maybe it would not happen. So I think we have to wait and see whether it happens. I would assume that Mr Pompeo would not have a very different view of this”. 

Also, Stent does not see how the change in Foggy Bottom could affect the US-Russia relations. “We had some reports from the US press that Mr Pompeo as the Director of CIA met with his counterparts, the heads of the Russian intelligence agencies, FSB and SVR, so he has these contacts at the highest level. I do not think there will be much change at the moment”, the expert concluded. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.