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Senators Grill Secretary Of State Pompeo On Trump-Putin Summit


We begin this hour on Capitol Hill, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is being interrogated about the Trump administration's recent foreign policy moves. The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, set the tone.


BOB CORKER: I want to get straight to the point. You come before a group of senators today who are filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct of American foreign policy.

CORNISH: Then Democratic Senator Bob Menendez pressed Pompeo on President Trump's private meeting last week with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Here's how Pompeo responded.


MIKE POMPEO: So the president was very clear with Vladimir Putin about U.S. positions. They're the U.S. positions that are the Trump administration's positions. And he spoke about them very firmly and clearly when he met with Vladimir Putin.

BOB MENENDEZ: And he told you that?

POMPEO: Senator, I'm telling you what he had a conversation about Vladimir Putin about. And I'm telling you what U.S. policy is today.

CORNISH: In a moment, we'll hear from Senator Menendez. But first we're going to hear from NPR's Michele Kelemen. She joins us now from the State Department. And, Michele, we just heard a little bit from the secretary of state and how he said it. Did he actually allay any of the senator's concerns about what happened in Helsinki?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: I don't think so. I mean, you have to remember Pompeo was not in the room when Putin and Trump held their one-on-one. But he did tell the committee that he's confident that he was well briefed on what happened there. Mostly his arguments, Audie, was that, you know, regardless of that, look at the policy.

He reminded senators that unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration is offering weapons to Ukraine to defend itself from Russian aggression. He also repeated that the U.S. is not recognizing the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea. You'll remember that President Trump was suggesting he might do that. And he blamed Obama for the situation in Crimea. So Pompeo is trying to set the record straight here. He even put out what he called the Crimea declaration today to formalize that policy.

CORNISH: How did senators respond to what Pompeo had to say?

KELEMEN: Well, he did get a lot of pushback. I mean, you know, the Democrats don't seem to be buying it. They see an administration that only reluctantly enforced sanctions on Russia that passed in Congress. And they point out that in diplomacy, words matter. Words of the president matter. And the Republicans, too, didn't really let him off that easy. You heard Chairman Bob Corker there. He also complained that - about the way President Trump berated NATO allies before that Putin meeting. Corker said the president appeared submissive and deferential at a news conference with Putin. He said Trump's statements are causing a lot of concerns among allies, among senators and many others.

CORNISH: We also heard some senators complaining that they were hearing more about the Trump-Putin meeting from the Russians than from the White House. Did the secretary of state fill in the gaps?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, he made clear that there weren't any deals per se on Crimea, Ukraine. Though again, Pompeo wasn't in the room. He says the things that he's been asked to follow up on, the agreements were sort of more basic - to establish a business council and to re-establish a working group on counterterrorism. He says they're looking at possibilities to work together on a political situation to Syria, but no change in policy yet.

CORNISH: This is also the first congressional hearing since President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. So did people ask him any questions about that?

KELEMEN: Oh, yeah. I mean, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said he fears that the U.S. is being taken for a ride. And Pompeo's response was fear not, that he's in what he calls patient diplomacy, but he's not going to let this drag out to no end.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. 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.
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