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What Tillerson's Departure Means For Negotiations With Iran And North Korea


When President Trump dismissed his secretary of state this morning, he said he wished Rex Tillerson well and that he is a good man. He also said they disagreed on some things, including the Iran nuclear deal, which puts limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief. President Trump opposes that deal. He says Tillerson thought differently. Trump has picked a replacement more in line with his way of thinking - Mike Pompeo, currently the CIA director.

We're going to talk now about what Pompeo might do differently from Tillerson on Iran and the signal that might send to another nuclear power - North Korea. Dan Byman is a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Hi.


SHAPIRO: When Mike Pompeo was in Congress, he was harshly critical of the Iran nuclear deal. And then here's what he said as CIA director this past October at the University of Texas.


MIKE POMPEO: Unlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, Iran is now a powerful nation state that remains the world's largest state sponsor of terror.

SHAPIRO: So as secretary of state, how would you expect Pompeo to approach the Iran deal differently from Tillerson?

BYMAN: Pompeo is likely to come in with the CIA and congressional perspective that the Iran deal was a bad deal. But it doesn't solve the bigger problem of what's going to replace it. And as secretary of state, if he wants to accomplish anything, he's going to have to come up with an answer to that. And he's going to find out that U.S. allies favor continuing the deal, that the Iranians are not likely to budge much. And so he's going to have to grapple with this reality in a way he hasn't before.

SHAPIRO: The nuclear deal needs to be recertified soon. Do you think that will be a moment that Pompeo will take dramatic action?

BYMAN: I think it's unlikely that Pompeo would move quickly on the Iran deal especially because it's not popular with the Republican base and because the president himself is critical of it. But not certifying and replacing it are very different things. What we may see is a rejection of the deal but no replacement for it.

SHAPIRO: So what would that mean in terms of the U.S.-Iran relationship going forward?

BYMAN: It would take a relationship that's already unsteady and make it even more so. The Iranians would always have a lack of faith in U.S. promises going forward because the United States has moved backward on this. But even more so there would be uncertainty among U.S. allies. They wouldn't be sure if the Trump administration was committed to confronting Iran or was simply going to conciliate Iran but hide behind some more bellicose rhetoric.

SHAPIRO: And what about North Korea, where President Trump says he may soon meet with leader Kim Jong Un? This is what Pompeo said about North Korea just this past Sunday on CBS' "Face The Nation."


POMPEO: We're going to work hard to make sure that we get what it is the president has set out very clearly for his entire time in office, which is the complete and verifiable irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

SHAPIRO: Dan Byman, what would you expect Pompeo to do with North Korea that's different from what Tillerson has done?

BYMAN: It's unlikely that Pompeo is going to make dramatic changes. North Korea is where good policy options go to die. They're going to have the question that many U.S. allies have right now, which is, who really speaks for the United States? The president often says one thing, Secretary of Defense another. And we have a host of actors that often give conflicting signals.

SHAPIRO: Could that point to Pompeo being a better choice as secretary of state since he seems to agree with President Trump on more things than Tillerson?

BYMAN: I do think that Pompeo is likely to do better than Tillerson in terms of having some degree of harmony with the White House. It was often jarring and remarkable to see how out of step the president and his secretary of state were. And my sense is that there is a more personal and better relationship between Pompeo and White House. However, we've seen even in the cases of someone like Secretary Mattis, who is pretty effective, that there is often still distance between what the president says, what he tweets and then what his key advisers want to accomplish.

SHAPIRO: Dan Byman of the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University, thanks so much for joining us.

BYMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.