BRUSSELS — Less than 24 hours after assuming his post, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plunged Friday into NATO diplomacy as the allies sought to toughen their response to Russian interference on its periphery and elsewhere.
On his first overseas trip as America’s top diplomat, Pompeo hit the ground running with a series of meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels aimed at underscoring the alliance’s relevance in a crisis-filled global environment that includes persistent or worsening conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine.
‘‘The work that’s being done here today is invaluable and our objectives are important and this mission means a lot to the United States of America,’’ Pompeo told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
‘‘The president very much wanted me to get here and I’m glad we were able to make it, and I look forward to a productive visit here today,’’ Pompeo said.
Pompeo’s aim is to ensure that NATO maintains a unified position of ‘‘no business as usual’’ with Russia until it implements an agreement to end violence in eastern Ukraine and halts destabilizing actions for which it is blamed elsewhere, according to a senior US official.
Those include the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain last month and support for the government of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, which is accused of launching a chemical weapons attack that led three NATO members — Britain, France, and the United States — to launch airstrikes on Syrian targets.
At a breakfast meeting focused on Russia, NATO foreign ministers agreed on ‘‘the scale of Russian aggression’’ and that it ‘‘requires a response,’’ according to the US official, who was not authorized to discuss the closed-door meeting publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
‘‘We are in a situation where we’ve not been before,’’ Stoltenberg said after the meeting. ‘‘We’re not in the old Cold War, but we’re neither in the strategic partnership we were trying to build after the Cold War. So this is something new.”
“Therefore it’s even more important that we are able to combine, both to be strong and to have a clear position of unity in our approach to Russia, but at the same time to keep the channels for dialogue open,’’ he said.
Friday’s meetings will set the stage for a summit of NATO leaders in July at which they are expected to outline more specifics about the response to Russia. The alliance has been trying to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council — which has not met since October 2017, before the July 11-12 summit — but has been unable to arrange it.
Another of Pompeo’s objectives in Brussels is to prod allies, particularly Germany, to meet their commitments to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024, according to the official.