Pompeo Vows to Embrace Diplomacy, but Pledges Tougher Line on Russia

As he prepared for his Senate confirmation hearing, Mike Pompeo, the current director of the C.I.A., reached out to former diplomats, including the last two Democratic secretaries of state.

WASHINGTON — The calls were placed quietly to top American diplomats who had resigned in droves over the past year. The message: Mike Pompeo, nominated to become the next secretary of state, wanted them back.

Mr. Pompeo, currently the director of the C.I.A., also telephoned Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, the last two Democrats to run the State Department. The gestures — the likes of which Rex W. Tillerson, President Trump’s first secretary of state, bypassed — were similarly well received by career diplomats in the run-up to what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing for Mr. Pompeo.

On Thursday, Mr. Pompeo’s charm offensive will face its greatest test as he testifies in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, has vowed to vote against him in part because of Mr. Pompeo’s past support for enhanced interrogation techniques that have been likened to torture. Democrats have promised to needle a nominee whom critics doubt can rally the Middle East against extremists given what they say is a record of anti-Muslim remarks and ties to anti-Islam groups.

In a written opening statement filed with the committee, Mr. Pompeo promised to avoid past missteps with North Korea and said that the president hoped negotiations with European partners would sufficiently toughen the Iran nuclear pact to make it acceptable for him.

“If confirmed, it will be an immediate personal priority to work with those partners to see if such a fix is achievable,” he said. Negotiators from Europe have been working with their United States counterparts on such an agreement since Tuesday at the State Department, their fourth such conclave.

Mr. Pompeo also promised a tougher policy toward Russia.

“Russia continues to act aggressively, enabled by years of soft policy toward that aggression,” he wrote. “That’s now over.”

At the State Department, Mr. Pompeo’s nomination has, like the blossoming cherry trees along the nearby National Mall, been greeted as a harbinger of new life. Gone is the deep gloom engendered by Mr. Tillerson’s contemptuous treatment of veteran diplomats, staff cuts, leaderless drift and unsuccessful reorganization project.

Having already moved away or accepted lucrative jobs, many of the foreign service officers declined Mr. Pompeo’s recent offer to return. But they appreciated the outreach nonetheless, according to a former senior diplomat who had talked to others similarly contacted, but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were intended to be private.

Mr. Pompeo’s call to Mrs. Clinton was particularly surprising, considering his fulminations against her as “morally reprehensible” when he was a member of the House Intelligence Committee after the Benghazi attacks in 2012.

“He’s reached back to every former living secretary of state, again no matter what party, to help receive whatever thoughts, guidance, insights that they would offer up,” said Brian Bulatao, the No. 3 official at the C.I.A. and who has known Mr. Pompeo since their first day as cadets at West Point. “But that’s the kind of style he has. No one’s going to out prepare, out-hustle or outwork Mike.”

Given Mr. Rand’s opposition, Mr. Pompeo may not receive the Senate committee’s blessing, which would be an embarrassing snub. Republicans could still pass his nomination to the full Senate, where 14 Democrats and an independent voted for his nomination as C.I.A. director.

But none of those votes are assured this time.

He has been meeting with moderates in hopes of persuading at least a few Democrats and independents to back him. Liberal groups are mobilizing to oppose him.

“Mike Pompeo is absolutely the wrong choice for secretary of state,” Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, wrote on Twitter. Even Democratic staff members say Mr. Pompeo is likely to be confirmed.

Mr. Pompeo’s hard-line foreign policy pronouncements as a conservative four-term Republican congressman from Kansas have caused some unease among the left-leaning, altruistic set at the State Department. In the past, he denounced the Iran nuclear deal, suggested that he supports leadership change in North Korea and supported enhanced interrogation techniques.

But his close connection with Mr. Trump and record of encouraging career employees at the C.I.A. have led many to hope that Mr. Pompeo may once again make their diplomatic efforts relevant.

For many, the change could not come at a more important time as pressing problems pile up — including a looming American military strike on Syria, increasingly toxic relations with Russia and a possible trade war with China.

In many ways, Mr. Pompeo is already the administration’s most important diplomat, having played the primary role in facilitating Mr. Trump’s risky diplomatic overture to North Korea through a channel that runs between the C.I.A. and its counterpart in Pyongyang, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

Those who have long known Mr. Pompeo say he is perfectly suited for this moment. He graduated first in his class from the United States Military Academy and became a tank commander in Germany. He left the military after just five years, as a captain, to attend Harvard Law School.

Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard who hired Mr. Pompeo as a research assistant, said that she “spent a lot of time talking to him about his future plans” — specifically, making his fortune and then going into politics.

“And he did it,” she said.

Not quite. After working for four years as a lawyer in Washington, Mr. Pompeo moved to Wichita, Kan., where he and three friends from West Point enlisted investors to buy four aircraft supply companies. They hoped to transform the industry and make themselves wealthy in the process. But the merged company, Thayer Aerospace, never succeeded.

“The timing could have been better,” said Jim Gero, the chairman of Thayer’s board. “When I look at my various investments, it wasn’t the best.”

After 10 years, Mr. Pompeo and his partners sold Thayer, and he turned to marketing Chinese-made oil field equipment. Whether he appropriately disclosed that venture at his Senate confirmation hearing last year for the C.I.A. post may become an issue at Thursday’s hearing.

In 2010, Mr. Pompeo joined a crowded field of Republicans vying to win a House seat from Wichita. With substantial donations from Koch Industries, the sprawling industrial conglomerate that is based there and controlled by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, who donate heavily to conservative causes, Mr. Pompeo defeated his opponents in the Tea Party wave that year.

Mr. Pompeo’s financial disclosure reports reveal few assets. He was determined to rescue Thayer Aerospace from the worst of its difficulties, said Mr. Bulatao, who was one of his partners. But his shortfalls as a businessman could endear him to diplomats who believed that Mr. Tillerson’s success as the chairman of Exxon Mobil made him inflexible and arrogant at the State Department.

Mr. Tillerson isolated himself in his executive suite, rarely answered emails or phone calls even from the nation’s highest officials, and gave his cellphone number to almost no one. When the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, tried to reach Mr. Tillerson on his final trip as secretary, Mr. Kelly had to call one of Mr. Tillerson’s aides.

In his opening statement, Mr. Pompeo promised to be different.

“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty,” he wrote. “I don’t ever stay sequestered on the executive floor of any building.”

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