US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended his tour of the Arab Gulf States and the Trump administration’s continued efforts to squeeze Iran, even as a new US administration led by Joe Biden prepares to enter at the White House in January.
Although Pompeo did not respond to questions from US-based reporters traveling with him in the past 10 days, he spoke to Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya in Dubai for brief televised remarks on Sunday.
“Our policies are not changing. Our duty does not change. My responsibilities do not change, ”he said. “I still have an obligation – every hour, every minute – to stand up for the American people and keep them at the forefront of our efforts, and we will. We will do this at the very last minute.
In what was likely his last tour of the Persian Gulf as Secretary of State, he touted the Trump administration’s Middle East strategy which focused on Iran as “the central threat in the region.” and for a maximum pressure campaign that hampered Iran’s ability to support militias in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
“It will be our policy until our time is up,” he said, without saying when he would stop working as a top American diplomat.
President Donald Trump has refused to give in to Biden, despite the Trump campaign’s failed efforts to block certification of votes in various states.
The Trump administration is trying to step up pressure on Iran before Biden takes office as president. Biden has said he wants to return to rapprochement with Iran. Analysts say Biden should be more willing to engage the Iranians in order to avoid a major escalation, although he is likely to pressure Tehran on its missile program and not just its nuclear program.
Trump is viewed favorably by Gulf heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for pulling the US out of a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing sweeping sanctions that drained Iran of revenue vital oil tankers.
Pompeo is due to travel to Saudi Arabia on Sunday night to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before returning to Washington.
His tour also included stops in France, Turkey and Israel, including an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and a museum that honors Christian Zionists.
According to a New York Times report, Trump was recently refused to go ahead with a military strike on Iran’s main nuclear site by advisers who included Pompeo.
When asked about this, a State Department official traveling with Pompeo told reporters that “all options are on the table” and that the Trump administration “will continue to pursue its policies until it is over. more in power ”.
Pompeo began his Gulf tour in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi early on Saturday, meeting with Emirate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who is considered the day-to-day ruler and powerful figure behind the major political decisions of the country.
The State Department said it discussed the progress of the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel – a move that has been followed by Bahrain and Sudan.
They also discussed “security cooperation and the fight against Iran’s malicious influence in the region, as well as that of China,” the US statement said.
Pompeo “also stressed the importance of the unity of the Gulf.” The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have largely backed down in the face of US efforts to reconcile with Qatar, which they accuse of sponsoring terrorism and supporting violent Islamist groups in the region. .
The quartet severed ties with Qatar in mid-2017 and called on the gas-rich Arab state to shut down its flagship Al Jazeera news network, among other demands, which Qatar categorically rejected, as well as accusations.
Pompeo left Abu Dhabi for Qatar on Saturday, although there are no direct commercial flights due to the standoff.
He had lunch with the leader, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and met with Qatar’s foreign minister. The State Department said Pompeo discussed regional issues and “the importance of a united Gulf in opposing the destabilizing activity of the Iranian regime and the risk to the region presented by China.” Qatar, however, maintains warm ties with Iran. The two countries also share a huge underwater gas field in the Persian Gulf.
In Qatar, Pompeo also met with representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban, where warring parties discuss the country’s future.
Despite a sharp increase in violence this year, Washington plans to withdraw about 2,500 troops by mid-January, leaving about 2,000 troops in Afghanistan.