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Pompeo appears at secretary of state confirmation hearing

CIA chief questioned on North Korea, Iran nuclear deal and FBI probe into alleged Russian meddling in 2016 US elections.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo has faced sharp questioning at the confirmation hearing in the US Senate for his nomination as secretary of state.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Pompeo was questioned on a number of different issues, relating to North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

He said a US attack on North Korea in response to its nuclear programme advancement would be "catastrophic".

Pompeo refused to comment on the FBI investigation into Russian collusion in the US elections but did say he believed there was interference from Moscow.

If confirmed by the Senate, Pompeo said he would bolster the Iran nuclear deal, adding that fixing the 2015 agreement is in the US' best interest.

Simple majority needed

Pompeo needs a simple majority in the Senate to be confirmed as secretary of state.

He was confirmed to his position as CIA director last year in a vote of 66 to 32, with 14 Democrats voting for his appointment.

Republicans hold 52 seats in the 100-seat Senate, but two Republican senators will not vote for his confirmation: Arizona's John McCain is away for cancer treatment, and Kentucky's Rand Paul has said he will vote "no".

As such, at least one Democratic vote will be required for his confirmation.

However, Senate Democrats may refuse to vote in favour of Pompeo with US midterm elections approaching in November and Democrats eyeing sweeping victories due to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.

Democrats are campaigning on an anti-Trump platform and attempting to distance themselves from his policies.

Trump has spoken highly of Pompeo, as has a group of 53 national security experts, who sent a letter to Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying Pompeo is "the sort of seasoned, accomplished and energetic national security policy practitioner our nation desperately needs at this juncture in the role of secretary of state".

If confirmed, Pompeo will replace Rex Tillerson, who was sacked by Trump in March.

Tillerson served as secretary of state until the end of March.

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