29 Apr 2018 – 11:40
AP / The Peninsula
Doha: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is using the Middle East leg of his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat to call for concerted action to resolve the Gulf Crisis.
Pompeo told the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, that the dispute needs to end, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on the meetings but who was not authorized to be named, New York Times reported.
Pompeo was meeting on Sunday with Saudi King Salman, whose country along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates is blockading Qatar that had hobbled Gulf Arab unity and frustrated the US as it seeks to blunt growing Iranian assertiveness. The ex-CIA chief had arrived in Riyadh a day earlier, shortly after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired missiles at Saudi Arabia’s southern city of Jizan, killing one person.
According to New York Times Pompeo came to Riyadh to deliver Trump’s message to Jubeir at an airport meeting Saturday afternoon; to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later that night; and to King Salman in a meeting planned for Sunday: Stop.
“Confronting Iran, stabilizing Iraq and Syria, defeating the last of Islamic State, and winding up the catastrophic civil war in Yemen are seen in Washington as increasingly urgent priorities that cannot be fully addressed without a united and more robust Arab response” the NY Times report said.
“The vast humanitarian crisis in Yemen has become such a keen concern on Capitol Hill that influential senators have begun discussing restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“Poor targeting by the Saudis in airstrikes, as well as the kingdom’s blockade of Yemeni ports, have done much to worsen the humanitarian situation in Yemen, and Pompeo told Jubeir on Saturday that Yemen must have easy access to humanitarian and commercial goods, along with fuel, the State Department official said,” the report added.
The officials, who were not authorized to preview Pompeo’s discussions with the Saudi leadership and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran’s long- and medium-range missile programs had to be countered as part of efforts to strengthen the Iran nuclear deal, from which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw by mid-May.
The officials said Pompeo will also press the Saudis on contributing more to stabilization efforts in territory in Syria recently liberated from the Islamic State group, the officials said.
As part of the anti-Iran push, the officials said Pompeo would make it clear to the Saudis that the dispute with Qatar must end. The crisis erupted last summer, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE blocked the country.
Mediation efforts led by Kuwait and supported by the US have proven unsuccessful. The split gives Iran “room to play” and hampers cooperation on a wide array of other issues, including combatting violent extremism from the Islamic State and other groups, the officials said.
Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European and other parties.
Two days later, the US plans to open its new embassy in Jerusalem. That will mark a significant shift in decades of American policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, who also claim the holy city as their capital.
The embassy move is deeply opposed by the Palestinians, who on May 15 will mark the anniversary of what they term the “nabka,” or catastrophe, when they fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during recent violent protests along border between Israel and Gaza.
On Friday at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, the first stop on his trip, Pompeo repeated Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the Iran deal unless it is significantly strengthened. He said the US was “unlikely” to stay in if that was not done.
“Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May,” Pompeo said.
Also looming over the trip is uncertainty over Trump’s policy on Syria, which has shifted between a speedy all-out withdrawal of American forces from the country and leaving a lasting footprint to deter Iran from completing a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut.