Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is kicking off his tenure as the United States' top diplomat by taking a tough stance against Russian aggression.
At a meeting of NATO Foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday, Pompeo agreed with diplomatic counterparts to combat Russia's behavior, a senior State Department official traveling with him said. Russia's actions in Syria, its suspected use of a nerve agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK and its cyber activities were all discussed, the official said.
"There was consensus on Russian aggression, the scale of Russian aggression and this being a problem that requires a response," the senior official said.
The NATO ministers also agreed on the need for member countries to meet their commitments to defense spending, an action President Donald Trump has strongly called on them to take.
The meeting marks Pompeo's first full day on the job. The Senate confirmed his nomination to become secretary of state on Thursday, paving the way for him to embark on a trip that will include stops in Brussels, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.
"No other secretary in recent history has gone on a trip as quickly as he has," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday.
Pompeo's comments on Russia are particularly notable as President Donald Trump has often soft-pedaled criticism of the country and its President, Vladimir Putin, despite US intelligence assessments that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Trump said last year that he believes Putin's assertion that Russia did not meddle in the election.
Trump did, however, directly criticize Putin earlier this month for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the wake of a chemical attack in Syria.
The US intelligence community has concluded that Putin ordered an "influence campaign" in 2016 with the goal of sowing distrust in the American democratic process and hurting Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency.
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