US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis

US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, denied that he supports removing North Korea’s ruling government from power under questioning from Senators on Thursday.

“I have never advocated for regime change,” Pompeo said during a confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that he is “not advocating for regime change.”

The nominee was pushing back on a question from Senator Ben Cardin, who asked whether Pompeo still advocated removing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as recent comments he made suggested. Speaking last July, Pompeo seemed to indicate that the administration would consider removing Kim Jong-un from power as one possible objective.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said at the Aspen Security Forum. “The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

“It would be a great thing to denuclearize the peninsula, to get those weapons off of that, but the thing that is most dangerous about it is the character who holds the control over them today,” he said.

At the confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Pompeo, who is currently CIA director, also cast doubt on prospects for the planned summit between Trump and Kim.

“No one is under any illusions,” that the meeting can achieve a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization, he said. But he added that it could “set us down the course to achieve a diplomatic outcome that America and the world so desperately need.”

In response to questions regarding the perception that his hawkish views are at odds with the role of top diplomat, Pompeo challenged the characterization.

“There’s no one like someone who understands the value of diplomacy and the terror and tragedy that is war like someone who has served in uniform,” Pompeo said in reference to his own military service in the Gulf War. “It’s the last resort. It must always be so.”

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