Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to say if he believes that Kim Jong Un did not know about Otto Warmbier’s mistreatment while the American college student was imprisoned in North Korea, as President Trump has asserted.
Pompeo also rejected the idea that President Donald Trump’s summit with the North Korean dictator had resulted in stalemate and said the Trump administration would not resume joint military exercises with South Korea. The North Koreans would see restarting those war games as a provocation, but some U.S. experts say they are vital to preserving American military readiness.
Pompeo made the remarks in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, in which he highlighted a series of domestic trips he is taking to pivotal states – starting Sunday with Iowa, which hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, and then to Kansas, where Pompeo is under pressure from GOP leaders to run for U.S. Senate.
The secretary of state insisted his domestic travel itinerary, which will also include a stop in Houston, was not political or in any way intended to help bolster Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
“That’s a ridiculous statement,” Pompeo said.
Incumbent presidents often deploy their Cabinet secretaries to swing states as they crank up their re-election bids, dispatching those high-profile surrogates to tout popular policies at official events that also have political side benefits.
In Iowa, Trump’s trade policies – specifically his tit-for-tat tariff war with China – have inflicted serious financial pain on farmers. That economic squeeze could sway critical votes in Iowa and other farm states if Trump does not reach a new trade agreement with China soon.
“Iowa sells about 80 percent of its soybeans to China, but China has cut that off” because of Trump’s tariffs, said Nicholas Grossman, an international relations professor at the University of Illinois. “So that’s hitting Iowa farmers pretty hard.”
Grossman said Pompeo’s trip will allow a top Trump emissary to calm farmers’ fears, while also taking attention away from the parade of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls who have been crisscrossing the state.
Pompeo said his “mission” in Iowa is to talk to the state’s agriculture leaders about Trump’s efforts to eliminate trade barriers that restrict American farmers from selling their commodities in China, a huge and growing market.
“This administration is determined to knock those down, so that farmers in Kansas, and in places like Iowa where I’ll be traveling, will be able to pass on the tradition of farming … not only to their children but to their grandchildren as well,” Pompeo said.