Former CIA director Mike Pompeo has been confirmed as secretary of state after the Senate voted 57-42 to approve him as America’s top diplomat.
Mike Pompeo had been accused by Democrats of being a war hawk and harboring anti-Muslim and homophobic views.
He is the second secretary of state under Trump administration. Rex Tillerson, was fired last month by the president via Twitter amid a personality clash.
On April 26, Republican senators, who control the Senate, voted unanimously to confirm Mike Pompeo. Six Democrats joined them.
Some of those Democrats – including North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – come from conservative-leaning states where President Donald Trump won in 2016, and are facing tough midterm elections in November.
The approval comes in time for Mike Pompeo to lead a US delegation to NATO foreign minister talks in Brussels this weekend.
Mike Pompeo is expected to depart for the trip only hours after being formally confirmed.
In a statement, President Trump applauded Mike Pompeo as someone who “will always put the interests of America first”.
The president said: “Having a patriot of Mike’s immense talent, energy, and intellect leading the Department of State will be an incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history.”
Mike Pompeo’s trip was the highest level meeting with a North Korean leader since 2000 when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, in Pyongyang.
In 2014, the then-head of National Intelligence James Clapper visited North Korea in a secret mission to negotiate the release of two US citizens. James Clapper did not meet Kim Jong-un during his trip.
President Trump stunned the international community last month by accepting North Korea’s suggestion for direct talks. It would be unprecedented for a sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader.
Donald Trump said the summit would take place either in early June or “a little before that” and that several sites were under consideration but that none of them were in the US.
Analysts have speculated that a location for talks could be the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea, Beijing, another Asian country, Europe or even a vessel in international waters.
North Korea has been isolated for decades because of its well-documented human rights abuses and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, in defiance of international laws and UN sanctions.
Pyongyang has carried out six nuclear tests, and has missiles that could reach the US.
However, South Korea’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in February gave an unexpected window for diplomacy and in the weeks since there have been a flurry of visits to North Korea from China, South Korea and now the US.
President Trump’s estimate that a meeting could take place in June or earlier appears to be one the administration is taking seriously.
However, news of Mike Pompeo’s visit is also likely to overshadow the other key diplomatic balancing act under way, which is the important relationship with Japan, a key US ally and neighbor of North Korea.
There have been fears in Tokyo that President Trump’s plans for bilateral talks could sideline Japan and Shinzo Abe is currently in Washington for talks with the US leader.
Relations between the two men appeared cordial on this, the second time that President Trump has welcomed Shinzo Abe to his Mar-a-Lago resort.
On April 17, President Trump insisted that the two countries were “very unified on the subject of North Korea”, and PM Shinzo Abe praised the president’s handling of the North Korea issue.
However, observers say Shinzo Abe’s goal for his US trip will be to persuade President Trump as much as he can not to sway from the West’s hard line on North Korea.
PM Shinzo Abe has repeatedly sought to portray a close personal relationship with President Trump and was the first foreign leader to meet him in New York after his election victory in 2016.
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