CIA Director Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of state, says he wants to "reset" the "deterrence relationship" with Russia, signaling a harder approach toward Moscow.
Speaking on April 12 during his Senate confirmation hearing, he also revealed that he had been interviewed by the U.S. special counsel investigating interactions between Trump's associates and Russian officials.
Trump nominated Pompeo to become the top U.S. diplomat after firing Rex Tillerson, whose tenure at the State Department was marked by personnel tumult and clashes with the president over foreign-policy priorities.
During his appearance, Pompeo was pressed by Republican and Democratic senators on his positions regarding Russia, the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea, climate change, and other major foreign-policy issues.
Pompeo, who is known to support tougher action against Russia, defended Trump's approach to Moscow, and what critics have asserted is his unwillingness to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin directly.
Pompeo listed some of the punitive actions the administration had taken: expulsion of diplomats, new sanctions targeted top Russian business and political officials, and the development of new nuclear weapons and tactics.
"We need to push back in each place we confront them," he said. "Each of those tools that Vladimir Putin is using, we need to do our best to make sure he doesn't succeed."
In prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance, Pompeo said he would seek a tougher approach toward Russia.
"Russia continues to act aggressively, enabled by years of soft policy towards that aggression," he said. "That's now over."
He added: "The actions of this administration make clear that President Trump's National Security Strategy, rightfully, has identified Russia as a danger to our country."
Pompeo also confirmed for the first time publicly that he had been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as part of his investigation of interactions between Russian officials and Trump's associates.
Trump has repeatedly slammed Mueller's efforts, at times threatening to fire him and calling the probe a "witch hunt."
Mueller has charged 19 people and three companies as part of his efforts, including Trump's former campaign chairman and his first national security adviser. He's also secured five guilty pleas.
Several senators pressed Pompeo about Trump's threats to fire Mueller, which some lawmakers have suggested would spark a constitutional crisis.
Pompeo said he would likely not resign as secretary of state if Trump were to fire Mueller.
"My instincts tell me my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important in times of domestic political turmoil," he said.
On Iran, Pompeo said he wanted to "fix" the nuclear deal, which Trump has repeatedly threatened to abandon if it is not strengthened.
Pompeo would not say explicitly if he supported withdrawing from the deal by the May 12 deadline set by Trump, but he also said he did not support staying in the agreement over the long term unless there were more restrictions on Tehran.