Pom­peo’s Mideast tour rolls on

Pom­peo praises ally in­volved in dis­pute with Saudis, oth­ers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW LEE In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jon Gam­brell of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo (left) and Emi­rati Am­bas­sador Yousef al-Otaiba con­fer Sun­day dur­ing Pom­peo’s visit to Abu Chabi, United Arab Emi­rates. Pom­peo later vis­ited Qatar, say­ing a boy­cott of the coun­try by four U.S. al­lies in the Mid­dle East “has dragged on too long.”

RIYADH, Saudi Ara­bia — U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said Sun­day that an on­go­ing boy­cott of Qatar by four of Amer­ica’s al­lies in the Mid­dle East “has dragged on too long,” though he gave no sign of any com­ing break­through in the dis­pute.

Stop­ping off in the small, en­ergy-rich na­tion as part of a Mideast tour, Amer­ica’s top diplo­mat made a re­peated point to say that “great things” were hap­pen­ing be­tween Qatar and the United States.

“We’re all more pow­er­ful when we’re work­ing to­gether,” Pom­peo said at a news con­fer­ence. “Dis­putes be­tween coun­tries that have a shared ob­jec­tive are never help­ful.”

Pom­peo said he signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with Qatar re­gard­ing the ex­pan­sion and ren­o­va­tion of al-Udeid Air Base, which hosts the for­ward head­quar­ters of the U.S. mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand and some 10,000 Amer­i­can troops.

How­ever, com­ments by Pom­peo and Qatari For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man Al Thani gave no sense of any move­ment in the on­go­ing diplo­matic cri­sis with Doha, Qatar’s cap­i­tal.

Later, speak­ing to a U.S. Em­bassy staff mem­ber in Qatar who said her job would move to the United Arab Emi­rates due to the boy­cott’s ef­fects, Pom­peo was even more frank.

“It’s on ev­ery­one’s mind and not at all clear that the rift is any closer to be­ing re­solved to­day than it was yes­ter­day — and I re­gret that,” Pom­peo said.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates be­gan a boy­cott of Qatar in June 2017, al­leg­ing that Qatar funds ex­trem­ist groups and has too-cozy ties to Iran. Qatar has long de­nied fund­ing ex­trem­ists, but Doha shares an off­shore nat­u­ral gas field with Tehran that gives its cit­i­zens the high­est per-capita in­come in the world. It re­stored diplo­matic re­la­tions with Iran af­ter the cri­sis flared, mark­ing a set­back for Saudi Ara­bia, which views the Shi­ite power Iran as its main re­gional ri­val.

A sim­i­lar dis­pute in­volv­ing Qatar broke out in 2014. But this time po­si­tions have hard­ened against Qatar, whose sup­port for Is­lamist op­po­si­tion groups has an­gered the Arab na­tions now boy­cotting it.

Ear­lier this month, Gen. An­thony Zinni, a for­mer com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand who re­tired from the Ma­rine Corps in 2000, re­signed as spe­cial Amer­i­can en­voy to re­solve the dis­pute. Re­gional an­a­lysts sug­gested it may be in part to in­tran­si­gence of those in­volved in the cri­sis.

“The de­par­ture of Mr. Zinni in no way re­flects any change in Amer­ica’s Mid­dle East ef­forts, our strategy or our on­go­ing com­mit­ment to the re­gion,” Pom­peo said. “It was a time for change. He made this de­ci­sion to move on, but Amer­ica’s com­mit­ment re­mains un­changed.”

From Qatar, Pom­peo trav­els to Saudi Ara­bia on his Mideast tour. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Riyadh and Wash­ing­ton re­mains tense af­ter the Oc­to­ber as­sas­si­na­tion of Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Ja­mal Khashoggi at the Saudi Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul. Mem­bers of Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man’s en­tourage have been im­pli­cated in the killing, and U.S. law­mak­ers have de­manded Amer­ica pull back its sup­port of the Saudi-led war in Ye­men.

“We will con­tinue to have a con­ver­sa­tion with the crown prince and the Saudis about en­sur­ing that the ac­count­abil­ity is full and com­plete with re­spect to the un­ac­cept­able murder of Ja­mal Khashoggi,” Pom­peo said.

“We’ll con­tinue to talk about that and make sure we have all the facts so that they are held ac­count­able cer­tainly by the Saudis, but by the United States as well, where ap­pro­pri­ate,” he added.

AP/AN­DREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

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