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US will avoid past errors on North Korea: Secretary of State nominee Pompeo

China is a strategic challenge but help on peninsula is 'No. 1 priority'

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, during his Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state, cited the need for a comprehensive strategy toward China.   © Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. will not repeat the mistakes of previous administrations on stopping North Korea's nuclear ambitions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday at his Senate confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of state, while also stressing the importance of diplomacy.

"We have a responsibility to achieve a condition where Kim Jong Un is unable to threaten the United States of America with a nuclear weapon," he told senators, referring to the North Korean leader.

Pompeo nevertheless cautioned against the use of force. "I have never advocated for regime change," he said.

When asked about the possibility of pre-emptive military action against North Korea, he responded that "we have not yet exhausted our capacity" on diplomacy.

"My role as a diplomat is to make sure that we never get to a place where we have to confront the difficult situation in Korea that this country has been headed for now for a couple of decades," Pompeo said.

Continued pressure on Pyongyang will help create a "successful diplomatic outcome in North Korea," he said.

Pompeo also discussed the proposed summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, reiterating the administration's goal of the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North Korean regime.

"The purpose of the meeting is to address this nuclear threat to the United States," he said.

As director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Pompeo is thought to have played a key role in backroom talks with the North. The cabinet nominee said in remarks released Wednesday that he will continue diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang, including in preparation for the summit.

"I have read the CIA histories of previous negotiations with the North Koreans, and am confident that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past," Pompeo said in the earlier statement. "President Trump isn't one to play games at the negotiating table -- and I won't be either."

Pompeo told senators of the need for a more comprehensive strategy on China.

"China certainly presents a strategic challenge to the United States of America," he said Thursday, citing Beijing's efforts to expand its economic influence in Asia. His statement the previous day cited Chinese provocations "in the South and East China seas, in cyberspace, and even in outer space."

But Chinese cooperation on North Korea is "the No. 1 priority" for the U.S. today, Pompeo said at the hearing.

The nominee also has pledged a tougher response on Russia. "We are arming brave young men and women resisting Russian expansionism in Ukraine and Georgia," he said in the Wednesday statement, adding that the Trump administration "has identified Russia as a danger to our country."

Pompeo warned against the threats posed by Iran against American partners in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. The nominee said Wednesday he wants to work with U.S. allies this month at ministerial meetings of the Group of Seven and NATO.

Pompeo had served in the Army before being elected to Congress in 2010. He was appointed CIA director in January 2017 under Trump.

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