Pom­peo says a united Gulf re­gion is vi­tal for an Arab al­liance to act as a counter-bal­ance to Iran

The National - News - - NEWS - JAMES HAINES-YOUNG

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.

Reuters

US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and his wife Su­san de­part from Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Air­port for Qatar yes­ter­day

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