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How Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Did On His First Official Trip As Chief Diplomat


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is hitting the ground running. He spent his first day on the job at NATO headquarters. It was a reassuring sign for many in Europe that the alliance still matters to this administration. President Trump had been giving mixed signals about that, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Pompeo says he didn't want to be late on his first day on the job, so he hopped a plane and hustled to NATO headquarters just after he was sworn into office.


MIKE POMPEO: It was important to me. There's no more fitting destination for my first foreign trip as the secretary of state than a meeting of our NATO allies.

KELEMEN: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg seemed impressed.


JENS STOLTENBERG: He was able to address the North Atlantic Council, the foreign ministers of NATO just 12 hours and 34 minutes after his confirmation. And I think that's actually a new record. And it also shows his strong personal commitment to the alliance. And it reconfirms the commitment of the United States and President Trump to the transatlantic bond.

KELEMEN: Stoltenberg says they talked about ways to deter Russia while also leaving the door open for dialogue. And on this, he says Pompeo's background is useful.


STOLTENBERG: His long and varied experience, including serving as a soldier in Germany during the Cold War, provides him a perfect background for being the top diplomat of the United States. And I look very much forward to working with him.

KELEMEN: The new U.S. secretary of state brought up his military service, too, when he talked about how the Russian threat has changed from conventional warfare to cyberattacks.


POMPEO: When I was a young soldier, it was T-72 tanks and T-60 tanks rolling across the then-East German plain. This today is different. And we collectively, each nation individually and NATO together, must come up with solutions to address that.

KELEMEN: He told reporters there was a consensus around the table today about the risks posed by Russia and a real commitment to work together to counter Moscow if it doesn't make better choices. In the hallways, NATO officials say they felt a boost from Pompeo's visit given the mixed signals coming from the Trump administration on transatlantic ties up to now. The president often complains that allies aren't paying their fair share. Pompeo says all NATO members should be striving to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.


POMPEO: That's the expectation. It's the expectation not only for Germany but for everyone who signed up for that agreement. So we're hopeful that at the summit, every NATO partner will deliver a credible plan to achieve that goal. That's what they signed up for. That's our expectation for July.

KELEMEN: On that, the NATO secretary general says allies are turning a corner, and more are reaching that goal. There's also a big change happening at NATO headquarters. While Pompeo was marking his first day in office, this was the final day in the original NATO chambers, where the secretary general said hundreds of politicians have been debating war and peace for more than half a century.


STOLTENBERG: In allied navies, there is often a tradition of formally decommissioning warships. Today we decommission this chamber.

KELEMEN: The NATO summit in July, he says, will be in the new building just across the street. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLAZO'S "NATURAL GREEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.