US secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo has promised that he will be willing to break from President Donald Trump if necessary, saying he will take a tough line on Russia and wants to "fix" the Iran nuclear deal.
- Mike Pompeo says the US needs to push back against Russia
- He backs more sanctions against Moscow
- Mr Pompeo acknowledges he has been interviewed by Robert Mueller
Mr Pompeo, who is currently director of the CIA, blamed tensions between Moscow and Washington on Russia's "bad behaviour" and said he would support more American sanctions against Russia.
"[Russian President] Vladimir Putin has not yet received the message sufficiently," Mr Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his relatively smooth confirmation hearing.
Mr Pompeo also appeared to be the first US official to publicly confirm that US forces had killed hundreds of Russians in Syria in February.
"In Syria, now, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match," he said.
"A couple hundred Russians were killed."
Mr Pompeo said Russia's push into Ukraine and other countries needed to be curbed.
"We need to push back in each place and in every vector," Mr Pompeo said.
"We need to make sure that Vladimir Putin doesn't succeed in what he believes his ultimate goal is."
Mr Trump nominated Mr Pompeo to become the country's top diplomat on March 13 after firing Rex Tillerson.
Mr Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, had a rocky relationship with Mr Trump in just over a year in the job.
The start of Mr Pompeo's hearing was disrupted by protesters chanting "No Pompeo, no more war" before police led them out.
While he faced pointed questions from several Democrats — including about his continued opposition to same-sex marriage — he was also complimented.
Mr Pompeo will need Democratic support to be approved by the committee because one Republican member, Senator Rand Paul, has announced his opposition.
Views on minorities worry Democrats
Democratic senators have raised questions about his fitness to be top diplomat, given his hawkish views and past comments about minorities.
"I continue to hold that view," Mr Pompeo said of his opposition to same-sex marriage, though he declined repeatedly to answer whether he believes gay sex is a "perversion".
Among the first issues Mr Pompeo was pressed on was whether Mr Trump spoke to him about the investigation looking into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Mr Pompeo acknowledged for the first time publicly he had been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose federal probe includes looking into whether there was collusion with Moscow by Trump campaign aides.
But he wouldn't answer questions about the contents of the interview.
"I cooperated," Mr Pompeo said.
Mr Pompeo was questioned repeatedly over whether he would act independently and stand up to Mr Trump.
He promised he would be his own man as secretary of state, saying his close relationship with Mr Trump meant, "I was able to persuade him" when he headed the CIA.
An avowed opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, Mr Pompeo said he would work immediately if confirmed to "fix" the agreement that Mr Trump has threatened to abandon if it's not strengthened.
The date for the vote confirming Mr Pompeo in the full Senate has not been set but is likely in the coming weeks.