US' top diplomat puts onus on Palestinians to rejoin peace talks

AMMAN (Jordan) • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wound up a three-day Middle East trip yesterday without having met any Palestinian, but still urging their leadership to rejoin the peace process.

Washington's newly appointed top diplomat received a warm reception in Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Amman, focusing his talks on Iranian interference in the region - despite tensions once again rising between Israel and the Palestinians.

Iran's supreme leader, meanwhile, hit out at the United States yesterday, accusing it of trying to stoke a "regional crisis" by provoking its ally Saudi Arabia to confront Teheran.

In remarks broadcast on state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated longstanding calls for the US to "leave" the Middle East, which he called Iran's home, and said any power seeking to challenge Iran would be defeated.

"One of the ways to confront Iran is to provoke inexperienced rulers of the region," he said, in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"Americans are trying to provoke Saudi Arabia against Teheran... Their aim is to create more regional crisis... to push Muslims to fight against Muslims."

POLITICAL DIALOGUE

The parties will ultimately make the decision about what the right resolution is. We're certainly open to a two-party solution as a likely outcome. We certainly believe that the Israelis and the Palestinians need to have political engagement. We urge the Palestinians to return to that political dialogue.

US SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO

Mr Pompeo said on Sunday that the US was deeply concerned by Iran's "destabilising and malign activities" in the Middle East.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Pompeo, the former CIA director, also refused to fully endorse the two-state solution, the longtime policy of the US before the Trump administration.

Forty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire on the Gaza border since the start of protests dubbed the Great March of Return on March 30, with more than 1,500 wounded.

But Mr Pompeo, who met Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his military headquarters on Sunday, refused to criticise the use of deadly force, saying: "We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves and we're fully supportive of that."

Mr Pompeo was speaking in Amman, capital of Israel's neighbour Jordan, on the last day of his first diplomatic mission since he was sworn into office on Thursday and immediately set off for a Nato ministerial meeting in Brussels.

He met Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who said his country believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "the main cause of instability in the region".

Mr Pompeo placed the onus on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

"The parties will ultimately make the decision about what the right resolution is," he said. "We're certainly open to a two-party solution as a likely outcome."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'US' top diplomat puts onus on Palestinians to rejoin peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe