(CN) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday that he was involved in the discussions that led to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But he would not say whether South Korea or any other nation was warned of the decision in advance of the president’s Thursday morning announcement.
“I don’t want to get into who all we notified,” he told the committee. “The White House will speak to that at the appropriate time.”
Thursday’s appearance before the Senate was his second visit to Capitol Hill in the past two days. On Wednesday, he spoke with members of the House on the prospects of the North Korea summit and other issues like the Iran nuclear deal and Russia interference in the 2016 election.
“We talk a lot about summits or deals. It’s not about the deal. It’s about the outcome. It’s about achieving this permanent physical change and transformation that will have an opportunity to change the world,” Pompeo said.
When Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., pressed Pompeo for the State Department’s strategy for denuclearization in the region now, Pompeo curtly replied: “We expect them to behave like normal nations.”
Pompeo expressed regret that the summit was off and appeared, through momentary pauses and deep sighs, to be deeply disappointed. When lawmakers asked for insight into the mind of Kim Jong Un, Pompeo rebuffed an insinuation by one lawmaker that Un backed away from the summit because he was a “weak leader.”
“He has an enormous capacity to lead his team,” Pompeo said, noting there was little doubt in his mind that Un understood the assurances the United States planned to offer North Korea in exchange for denuclearization.
Three U.S. hostages were released following Pompeo’s negotiations and this was an indicator to the secretary that Un understood the terms of the agreement and was willing to engage.
To put a finer point on relations moving forward, Pompeo described the situation concisely: “Situation normal. Pressure campaign continues.”
China also deserved “full credit” for its willingness to engage with the U.S. during preparation for the summit but would not say whether or not China knew Trump’s letter was en route to North Korea.
The cancellation of the North Korea summit was not the only issue up for discussion Thursday: lawmakers also grilled Pompeo over Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement.
The secretary of state said he plans to roll out a 12-point plan on U.S.-Iran policy soon, and that it would include asking Iran to declare the full military dimensions of its nuclear program; a demand that it stop uranium enrichment; seek unfettered access to nuclear development sites throughout the country; and include demands that Iran stop manufacturing ballistic missiles, withdraw from Syria and supporting Hezbollah and other groups.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., asked Pompeo to play devil’s advocate and substitute Iran for Israel.
“Does anyone think Israel would reveal the military dimensions of its nuclear programs? You may say they’re our friend but they’re seen as a rival to those in the region. The same would go for Saudi Arabia. Are they willing to discuss anything done with nuclear weapons?” Paul said. “You’re asking for something Iran would never agree to; we are asking a country to do something we’d never do. The people who attacked us [on September 11] came from Saudi Arabia yet we lavish them with [the sale of] bombs.”
Pompeo began to respond, but Paul interrupted him.
“There have been 16,000 bombings on Yemen by Saudi Arabia. No one ever talks about that,” he said, noting an email leaked last year by Wikileaks in which former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta told former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the U.S. “must stop Saudi Arabia and Qatar from funding ISIS.”
Stopping Iran’s aggression requires addressing aggression by allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which can exacerbate the spread of terrorism.
“They’re 10 times more of a problem than Iran,” Paul said.
Pompeo also faced tough questions on the Trump administration’s plan to cut $252 million in emergency response funding that had been set aside in the 2015 fiscal year during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.
At the present the Congo is fighting to rein in a deadly Ebola outbreak, that has infected at least 30 people to date and left 8 dead.
The last major outbreak claimed more than 11,300 lives. The $252 million Trump wants to cut from the federal budget was earmarked to build local capacities to spot and react to future Ebola outbreaks all over Africa.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, told Pompeo he didn’t understand the cut and called it a “dangerous game.”
“During outbreaks last year, we didn’t have enough [funding] but just enough. We saved 16 lives here. Then a few months later, we stopped an outbreak in Nigeria. You can’t build when the problem comes, you have to be prepared for it,” Isakson said.
Pompeo assured the committee the State Department would remain on top of the outbreak in Africa.
“But as you know, we’re on top of it, until we’re not,” he said.