Mike Pompeo attacks Russia during first trip as US secretary of state

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a media conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels (Virginia Mayo/AP) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has rebuked Russia for what he called aggression beyond its borders, and vowed to restore relevance to a badly demoralised State Department in his new role as the top American diplomat.

Attending a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels less than 24 hours after being sworn in, Mr Pompeo criticised Russia for threatening the alliance’s friends and partners in Georgia and Ukraine as well as for “an aggressive campaign to undermine Western democratic institutions”.

Among other Russian misdeeds, he said, are the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain last month and its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Syria is accused of launching a chemical weapons attack that led three Nato members — Britain, France and the US — to launch airstrikes on Syrian targets.

Syria has denied responsibility.

“In light of Russia’s unacceptable actions, Nato is more indispensable than ever,” the former CIA chief told reporters as he wrapped up the first stop on his first overseas trip as secretary of state.

“Nato should not return to business as usual with Russia until Moscow shows a clear change in its actions and complies with international law.”

Mr Pompeo said that among the allies there was “enormous consensus of the risk that it poses to the West (and) a real commitment to work together to mitigate to those risks and to deter them”.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed.

“We are in a situation where we’ve not been before,” he said. “We’re not in the old Cold War, but we’re neither in the strategic partnership we were trying to build after the Cold War. So this is something new.”

Friday’s meetings set the stage for a summit of Nato leaders in July at which they are expected to outline more specifics about their response to Russia.

Because of Nato’s central role in pushing back against Russia, Mr Pompeo said it was even more important that the allies, particularly Germany, the largest and wealthiest European member, meet their commitments to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defence by 2024.

The commitment was made in 2014 and thus far only six of the 28 countries that made the pledge meet the goal.

Nine have produced realistic plans for reaching it by 2024, but the rest, including Germany, have not.

“No,” Mr Pompeo replied bluntly when asked if Germany’s efforts to increase defence spending have been satisfactory.

“They should meet the goals that they agreed to,” he said as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump were meeting at the White House.

Mr Pompeo arrived in Brussels about 12 hours after he was sworn in as secretary of state to replace Rex Tillerson, fired by Mr Trump last month.

His participation in the meeting so soon after taking office was noted by Mr Stoltenberg and others who said it was a sign of US commitment to Nato and its allies.

His arrival also appeared to have heartened some US diplomats who had been discouraged by Mr Tillerson’s embrace of budget and staffing cuts and a perceived desire to reduce America’s diplomatic footprint.

Mr Pompeo alluded to the change.

“They may have been demoralised but they seemed in good spirits,” he said of a group of US diplomats he met at Nato.

“They are hopeful that the State Department will get its swagger back, that we will be out doing the things that they came on board at the State Department to do.”

“That’s my mission set: to build that esprit and get that team on the field.”