Pompeo to visit Middle East; Iran remains most dangerous actor in region

Mike Pompeo’s trip will focus on “two main themes,” one of which is Iran, and the other is that “the United States is not leaving the Middle East,” despite the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – On Friday, four senior State Department officials previewed the forthcoming visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to eight Middle Eastern countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, along with Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE.)

Pompeo’s trip will focus on “two main themes,” one of which is Iran, as an official explained.

“There is no greater threat to stability than the Iranian regime,” the official said. Pompeo will thus be pursuing a basic element in the administration’s Middle East policy: alignment with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states to pressure and isolate Iran.

“The Secretary will continue his work on galvanizing our regional partners and allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activities,” the official affirmed.

Calling Bahrain “a front-line state” in US strategy toward Tehran, another senior official explained, “Iran seeks to agitate the Shia population in Bahrain through weapons trafficking and various other means.”

The State Department earlier revealed that Iran is using Iraqi territory to train a Bahraini terrorist organization, the al-Ashtar Brigades, with the aim of overthrowing the government of Bahrain.

The second main theme of Pompeo’s trip is that “the United States is not leaving the Middle East,” despite the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. Pompeo intends to “reinforce that commitment to the region and our partners,” the first State Department official affirmed.

In a related point, another senior official expressed Washington’s continued opposition to any normalization of ties with Syria.

Our position remains that “political isolation and political pressure is the appropriate approach” to the Syrian regime in order to press it to settle the civil war “in a peaceful way,” as well as to secure “the exit of all Iranian-commanded forces,” he said.

“We would respectfully disagree” with those Arab countries that are “advocating a different approach” and re-establishing diplomatic relations with Damascus, he continued.

Two close allies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, have reopened their embassies in Damascus in the period since December 19, when Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing its forces from Syria.

In each country, Pompeo will pursue important bilateral interests, including in Kuwait and Qatar, where the US has military bases and with which it maintains a “strategic dialogue.”

The State Department also praised Oman for hosting the visit of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas last October, which was followed shortly thereafter by a visit from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s trip marked the first visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to Muscat since 1996, the heyday of the “peace process.”

It may be a bit hard to recall now, but the Clinton administration’s efforts in the Middle East focused almost entirely on an effort to broker a broad Arab-Israeli settlement. The results, however, were meager: a 1994 agreement between Jordan and Israel, which, in effect, turned a de facto peace into a formal, legal peace.

Earlier, the White House had announced that Pompeo would visit Iraq, as well, but a senior official described the announced itinerary as the countries that Pompeo “is planning to visit,” as of now, although that could be subject to change.

Separate from Pompeo’s tour, White House National Security Adviser, Amb. John Bolton, is visiting Israel and will proceed on to Turkey. In both countries, his discussions are focused on the planned withdrawal of US forces from Syria.