On Wednesday, for Mr. Pompeo’s ceremonial swearing in, President Trump will take his first trip to the State Department. It will signal to the world — and, perhaps just as important, to the rest of his administration — that Mr. Pompeo is now in charge of the United States’ foreign policy.
Mr. Tillerson never got that kind of forceful endorsement and was often undercut by Mr. Trump openly disagreeing with him. The president also gave some of the administration’s most important foreign policy assignments to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, including an effort to broker peace in the Middle East and another to rescue the relationship with Mexico. And Mr. Tillerson never visited Israel without the president, an extraordinary hole in his travel itinerary.
Mr. Pompeo fixed that omission almost immediately, hopping on a government jet hours after his Senate confirmation on Friday for a four-day trip to Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.
The trip sent “a pretty clear signal that the new secretary of state intends to establish himself as the major force in the administration’s foreign policy,” said Aaron David Miller, a former top Middle East negotiator at the department.
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Mr. Pompeo has promised to spend the next several weeks in Washington sorting out the mess that Mr. Tillerson left behind.
There are scores of top positions in the State Department that have been left vacant for more than a year, including ambassadorships in South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And in Mr. Pompeo’s office sit more than 1,400 memos needing his approval for significant spending decisions — decisions Mr. Tillerson never got around to making.
As important, in the coming weeks, Mr. Pompeo faces crucial deadlines involving Russia, North Korea, Syria, China and Venezuela. He must also mend some of the United States’ closest alliances that are on shakier ground than they have been in decades.
European allies, for instance, are worried that Mr. Trump will soon start a trade war against them and renounce the Iran nuclear accord, a pact many see as vital to their national security.
Mr. Trump also faces a potential trade war with China and an increasingly combative relationship with Russia, and he has unnerved Japan with his plans for a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader.
Mr. Pompeo has promised that he would soon speak in more detail to the State Department about his plans and leadership strategy.
But on Tuesday, he simply tried to reassure a dispirited diplomatic corps that they need “to be in every corner, every stretch of the world, executing missions on behalf of this country.”
“And it is my humble, noble undertaking to help you achieve that.”