Pompeo Tells U.K. Not to Go `Wobbly' in Stinging Rebuke
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo fired a broadside of criticism at the U.K.’s approach to national security, demanding America’s long-standing ally takes a far tougher approach to China and Iran, and to hurry up and deliver Brexit.
Pompeo’s remarks, during a trip to the U.K., risked a diplomatic argument with one of the U.S.’s closest allies, just a month before President Donald Trump is scheduled to pay a formal state visit to Queen Elizabeth II. His criticism comes at a particularly sensitive time for Prime Minister Theresa May, who is struggling to complete Britain’s divorce from the European Union and under daily pressure to resign.
In his speech, Pompeo risked an unflattering and undiplomatic comparison with Britain’s first female prime minister—urging the U.K. to think of what the so-called Iron Lady, the late Margaret Thatcher would do, faced with the same global challenges.
Now is “the exact opposite time to go wobbly,” Pompeo told an audience in London’s Lancaster House, one of the most prestigious diplomatic venues in the British capital.
“Ask yourself this: would the Iron Lady be silent when China violates the sovereignty of nations through corruption or coercion?” he said. “Would she allow China to control the internet of the future? I know it’s a sensitive topic, but we have to talk about sensitive things, as friends.”
He said it was a matter of Chinese law that the Chinese government can demand access to data flowing through Huawei systems, which the U.K. hasn’t ruled out as a supplier for next-generation 5G communications networks.
The U.K. is a a linchpin of the international “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance that includes the U.S. and Pompeo has warned that doing business with Huawei might come at the expense of continue to exchange secrets.
“Why would anyone grant such power to a regime that has already grossly violated cyberspace?” he said. “What can Her Majesty’s Government do to make sure sensitive technologies don’t become open doors for Beijing’s spymasters?”
Pompeo’s comments represent a blunt critique of Britain’s approach to security. The U.K. government is in the process of weighing up the role the networking giant will play in Britain’s new telecoms network. The reason allies are on edge is because so-called 5G technology is critical to everything from artificial intelligence to driverless cars.
The U.S. has already urged allies to ban the Chinese provider from running sensitive 5G telecoms infrastructure but May’s administration is said to be considering allowing Huawei a limited role.
Pompeo spoke after a meeting with May and talks with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. In his speech, the top U.S. diplomat turned to the differences of approach between the two allies over the handling of the nuclear threat from Iran.
While there is “no daylight” between Britain and America on the severity of the threat emanating from the Iranian regime, May’s government should take a harder line, he said.
“I urge the U.K. to stand with us to rein in the regime’s bloodletting and lawlessness, not soothe the Ayatollahs angry at our decision to pull out of the nuclear deal. If this is about something like commerce, let’s open markets together. I know that we can.”
In perhaps the comments most likely to cause embarrassment to his hosts, Pompeo then complained that May’s handling of Brexit was delaying the talks on a U.K.-U.S. trade deal that Trump is impatient to strike.
“President Trump is eager for a new free trade agreement that will take our Number 1 trade relationship to unlimited new heights,” Pompeo said. “We’ve filed all the papers we can at this point. We’re ready to go. But we can’t make progress on a new agreement until Brexit gets resolved—God speed and good luck.”