Pompeo says a united Gulf region is vital for an Arab alliance to act as a counter-balance to Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a united Gulf region was essential for building a security and economic alliance of Middle East states.
Mr Pompeo left Abu Dhabi for Qatar to continue his Middle East tour to reassure allies about Washington’s commitment to the region.
After meeting his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, Mr Pompeo flew to Saudi Arabia. He was greeted on the tarmac by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir and Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman.
Mr Pompeo said he had signed an agreement with Doha to expand the Al Udeid Airbase that operates as a forward position for America’s Central Command and is home to about 10,000 US troops.
He also said the Qatar crisis had gone on too long and that the region faced challenges that required a unified stance. “When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful,” Mr Pompeo said in Doha.
“They never permit you to have as robust a response to common adversaries or common challenges as you might. We’re hoping that the unity of the GCC will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead.”
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in June 2017 over its support for terrorist groups and interference in the internal affairs of its neighbours.
The quartet has issued a list of demands they say Doha must meet before they will discuss restoring links.
Mr Pompeo later said he had brought up the rift with officials in Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.
“It’s not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday, and I regret that,” he said.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have said the situation is not a priority and could remain as it is for the foreseeable future unless Qatar is serious about change, but also that the situation did not compromise defence co-operation with the US.
Mr Pompeo said that Gulf unity was essential for the planned Middle East Strategic Alliance, which would also include Jordan and Egypt.
America has proposed a nine-country alliance for security, economic and political co-operation. The alliance has also been called the “Arab Nato”.
He is also set to raise the importance of peace in Afghanistan and countering Iranian policies in the Middle East.
The Taliban have a political office in Doha and Saudi Arabia and the UAE have played an important recent role behind the scenes in holding peace talks between the US and the Afghan militants.
But it is unclear where Qatar will stand on the issue of the US’s increasingly active policy against Iran, given that it has strong links with Tehran.
On Mr Pompeo’s Riyadh visit all eyes will be on a possible meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Touching on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s embassy last year, Mr Pompeo said he would speak with the crown prince to ensure there is “full and complete” accountability.
A group of senior officials and security personnel were arrested for carrying out the killing. The trial of the 11 men opened at the start of the year.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad just days after Mr Pompeo’s visit to the country.
After a two-hour meeting yesterday, Iraq’s top diplomat Mohammed Al Hakim said: “We discussed the unilateral economic measures taken by the US and are working with our neighbour [Iran] on them.”
Mr Pompeo departed from Abu Dhabi after meeting the UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba.
On Saturday evening, he met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The pair discussed areas of co-operation and mutual interest between Washington and Abu Dhabi.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan depart from Abu Dhabi International Airport for Qatar yesterday