Pompeo calls for Gulf unity as tensions with Iran mount

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is welcomed by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir upon his arrival in Riyadh on Saturday. Mr Pompeo's visit to the Middle East covers Riyadh, Amman and Jerusalem.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is welcomed by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir upon his arrival in Riyadh on Saturday. Mr Pompeo's visit to the Middle East covers Riyadh, Amman and Jerusalem.PHOTO: REUTERS

New US state secretary on Mid-East tour to rally support for fresh sanctions against Teheran

RIYADH • New US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has underscored the need for unity in the Gulf during a hastily-arranged visit to the Middle East as the United States seeks to muster support for new sanctions against Iran.

The visit to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Amman, just two days after Mr Pompeo was sworn in, comes as United States President Donald Trump is set to decide whether to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that is still supported by European powers.

Mr Pompeo yesterday said he "stressed the importance" of Gulf unity in talks with Saudi officials.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar on June 5, accusing the country of supporting Sunni extremist groups and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militants.

Qatar denies the charge.

"I think they would all agree that it's in everyone's best interests that the Gulf states all figure out how to be together," Mr Pompeo told reporters after he left Saudi Arabia yesterday.

"We've got a common challenge in Iran, I think they all recognise that. We're hopeful that they will in their own way figure out their dispute between them."

US and Qatari officials have said that Qatar, home to a key American military base used in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has made progress in cracking down on terrorist financing.

THREAT TO STABILITY

Iran destabilises this entire region. It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It supports the murderous Assad regime (in Syria) as well.

US SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, in a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Qatar and the US in July struck a pact to strengthen Qatari action against terrorist funding, including sharing information and tracking down funding sources.

Speaking later in the day after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Pompeo said the United States is "deeply concerned" by Iran's ambition to dominate the Middle East.

"We remain deeply concerned about Iran's dangerous escalation of threats towards Israel and the region," he said in remarks alongside Mr Netanyahu.

Earlier in the day, Mr Pompeo reassured Saudi Arabia that the US would abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, reached under President Trump's predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, unless there is an agreement with European partners to improve it to ensure the Islamic republic never possesses a nuclear weapon.

"Iran destabilises this entire region," Mr Pompeo said in a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

"It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It supports the murderous Assad regime (in Syria) as well."

The 2015 deal that limits Iran's nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief does not cover its missile programme.

Mr Trump has called it the "worst deal ever" and threatened to re-impose sanctions unless Britain, France and Germany agree to fix it. Resuming sanctions would likely kill the deal.

Mr Trump has also called on Gulf allies to contribute funding and troops to stabilise areas in Iraq and Syria where a US-led coalition has largely defeated ISIS extremists.

Earlier this month, Mr Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would be prepared to send troops into Syria under the US-led coalition if a decision is taken to widen it.

Asked about Saudi troops on the ground in Syria, Mr Pompeo said: "We will sit down and talk about... how to best make sure that this is not America alone working on this, it's the Gulf states working alongside us."

Mr Pompeo earlier met with Saudi King Salman for about 15 minutes before heading directly to Israel, Iran's archenemy, for talks with Mr Netanyahu.

The meeting, which was supposed to take place in Jerusalem, was moved to Tel Aviv at Israel's request, a State Department official said without providing a reason.

Speaking after a Nato foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels last Friday, Mr Pompeo said Mr Trump had not taken a decision on whether to abandon the deal but was not likely to stick to it without substantial changes.

"There's been no decision, so the team is working and I am sure we will have lots of conversations to deliver what the President has made clear," Mr Pompeo told a news conference.

"We've certainly made some (progress with the Europeans)," he said yesterday. "There is still work to do. They said, 'Great, we will support you if you get the fixes.'"

REUTERS, XINHUA, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2018, with the headline 'Pompeo calls for Gulf unity as tensions with Iran mount'. Print Edition | Subscribe