U.S. President Donald Trump says he is "on the same wavelength" as his choice for top U.S. diplomat, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and the White House envisions a key role for the country's new top diplomat in high-profile talks between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"The president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations," said a senior White House official Tuesday. Pompeo will likely have to wait until April to be confirmed as secretary of state, but is likely to begin on the extensive preparations required ahead of the summit.
During a Fox News interview Sunday, Pompeo praised the president's "maximum pressure" campaign on North Korea for making the idea of a summit between Trump and Kim a possibility.
"Never before have we had the North Koreans in a position where their economy was at such risk and where their leadership was under such pressure that they would begin conversations on the terms that Kim Jong Un has conceded to," Pompeo said.
Asked what the North Korean leader needs to do to get a long-desired meeting with the president, Pompeo listed several conditions Sunday.
"He can't conduct nuclear testing, he's got to stop the missile testing that he's been hard at for the last years. He's got to continue to allow us to perform our militarily-necessary exercises on the peninsula, and then he's got to make sure that he leaves on the table that discussion for denuclearization."
In the past, the CIA director has made tough remarks on North Korea, even suggesting that "regime change" should be an option.
Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, expects Pompeo to hold to those hardline positions.
"Expect Pompeo to play a protagonist's role in avoiding the entrapment of previous U.S. administration engagements with North Korea by holding absolutely firm on the United States' desired end state —denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and an end to the North Korea ballistic missile program."
Former U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy said Trump's firing of Tillerson is not a surprise, but will likely mean the State Department's career staff could be even more excluded from preparing for a Kim-Trump meeting.
"The shakeup means that State will be cut out — even more so — of preparations for the Kim Jong Un summit despite, ironically, Tillerson having been a proponent of diplomacy," Kennedy told VOA. "Aside from the loss of senior diplomat Joe Yun, the designate for Under Secretary of State for East Asia/Pacific Susan Thornton now has a big question mark around her since Tillerson [for once] fought hard to get a talented career official nominated to this key job."
Kennedy added: "In general, there will be uncertainty over all aspects of State when the boss has just been unceremoniously dumped. This underlines exactly how little Trump values expertise or diplomacy in general."
Hamline University professor David Schultzin said Pompeo replacing Tillerson is not surprising, noting Trump favors a more militaristic or hardline approach to foreign policy over the "soft power" of diplomacy. Schultzin said Pompeo is also more confrontational, especially toward China.
"In fact, he [Pompeo] may complicate possible talks with North Korea, which will require the Chinese to cooperate. How the new secretary of state tries to push China while also trying to do talks with North Korea will be interesting to watch. If he does not change his rhetoric toward China [and I see no indication that he or Trump will], expect that there will be increased tensions with China and also expect, perhaps, more trade tariffs on China."
Schultz added that "the free-traders, diplomats and multilateralists have left the [Trump] administration."