by Jasmina Ameti
By Jasmina Ameti - Last month, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo toured US allies in the Middle East to reassure Washington’s allies about the continued support of the US President Donald Trump, while reiterating the policy of closing ranks to confront Iran. The tour consisted of nine countries, including Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. His visit to the Middle East comes at a critical time, amid Donald Trump’s announcement, in early January, of his intention to withdraw the nearly 2 000 US troops stationed in north-eastern Syria. The announcement created incredulity and concern around the region, as US allies fear that Iran troops will fill the vacuum left by US forces, thus consolidating and expanding Tehran’s grip on the country. Other issues discussed included the Qatar crisis, and the war in Yemen, emphasising the urgency of finding a solution.
On 08 January, the US Secretary started his tour to the Middle East with the first stop in Jordan where he met with the Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah. The discussion covered the US-Jordan strategic cooperation and Pompeo reassured Amman that the US withdrawal from Syria would not change the US position towards protecting the stability of its allies in the region. Amman expressed gratitude for Washington’s support to Jordan in multiple development programmes to prevent the escalation of an economic crisis triggered by regional events.
Mr Pompeo’s next stop took place on 09 January, in Iraq, he met with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iraqi government figures and Kurdish officials. Iraq represents one of the key allies of the US in the region, mainly due to its geographical proximity to Iran. Mr Pompeo stated that the talks focused on Iraq’s fight against a return of Daesh. He argued that Washington and Baghdad have a common understanding that the battle against Daesh, to counter Daesh, and the fight to counter Iran, is real and important. He added that: ISIS is defeated militarily, but the mission is not accomplished. The main concern of Iraq with regard to the US military withdrawal from Syria is that the reduction of American troops will affect regional security.
On 10 January, Pompeo met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in order to discuss economic and security concerns with regards to Washington-Cairo cooperation. Pompeo’s choice to stop in Cairo and give a high-profile speech on US policy in the region was highly symbolic, reminiscent speech given by former President Barack Obama in Cairo in 2009. The objective was likely to further underline differences between the Trump and Obama administration with regards to US policy in the Middle East. Pompeo’s speech predominantly focused on ‘confronting Iran’s malign activities.’
On 11 January, Mr Pompeo visited Bahrain, where, together with King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman bin Ahmad Al Khalifa and Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, they discussed the importance of countering Iran and extremist groups. Pompeo pointed out that Manama is a key US Arab-Gulf ally and added: These Gulf partnerships are critical to achieving shared regional objectives – defeating ISI, countering radical Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy supplies and rolling back Iranian aggression.
From Manama, Pompeo headed to the United Arab Emirates, on 12 January, to discuss the cohesion of the Arab Gulf countries, particularly when it comes to the dispute with Qatar, and other Arab nations, to counter Iran. Pompeo met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, accompanied by the Chief Executive and Managing Director of Mubadala, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the National Security Advisor.
As a part of Pompeo’s Middle East tour, he arrived in Qatar on 13 January, where he touched upon the need to end the conflict between Doha and the other Arab Gulf allies. He stated: It is time for old rivalries to end for the sake of the greater good of the region.
Pompeo then headed to Saudi Arabia on 14 January, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The relationship between Washington and Riyadh remains delicate. The US Secretary of State and the Saudi Crown Prince discussed women’s rights and the fighting in Yemen, Pompeo discussed, at length, the necessity to achieve a political solution to the conflict. From Washington’s point of view, the war expands resources and attention to focus on other regional issues, especially from the two leading members of the coalition, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The US reiterated support to Riyadh in its efforts to contain Iran.
Finally, Pompeo visited Oman on 14 January, where he met with Sultan, Qaboos bin Said al Sai, to discuss their bilateral cooperation and common regional concerns. Pompeo emphasised the importance of the support provided by Oman to facilitate talks in order to terminate the war in Yemen. Even though, Mr Pompeo’s tour in the Middle East initially included Kuwait, the Secretary of State cut it short due to a family funeral and returned back to Washington.
We at the Euro-Gulf Information Centre will continue to monitor developments between Washington and its Middle Eastern allies, especially those impacting on regional peace, prosperity, stability and security. Secretary Pompeo’s tour to the Middle East reflects the desire of the US to reassert itself despite the many polarising issues facing the region, and indeed the world.
08 January 2019