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From Jerusalem, Pompeo invokes religion, Israel and Iran in speech to Republicans

Addressing the Republican convention, US secretary of State hails the killing of Iran's Qassem Soleimani, accusing him of murdering thousands of Christians
Mike Pompeo faced accusations of politicising American diplomacy (AFP/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

With the skyline of Jerusalem behind him, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech to the Republican national convention hailing President Donald Trump and his foreign policy record, including moving the American embassy to the holy city.

In an address aired on Tuesday night, Pompeo focused on the Middle East, dedicating almost half of his four-minute speech to the region. 

"When Iran threatened, the president approved a strike to kill the Iranian terrorist Qassem Solemani," the secretary of state said. 

"This is the man most responsible for the murder and maiming of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Christians across the Middle East."

'The president moved the US embassy to this very City of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland'

- Mike Pompeo

While Iranian-backed militants have targeted American troops in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, it is not clear what Pompeo was referring to when he cited the killing of Christians at the hands of Soleimani. 

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The Iranian general was involved in the civil war in Syria and the ongoing conflict in Iraq, but there is no evidence of Tehran or Iran-backed groups systematically killing Christians. 

In fact, Iran's supporters portray Soleimani as a protector of the Middle East's Christian population because of his role in fighting the Islamic State (IS) group that targeted religious minorities.

"Pompeo's speech was filled with disinformation and embellishment, but his statement that Soleimani was responsible for thousands of Christians being murdered is an eye-popping fabrication," said Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

"I'm not aware of any evidence that would support it. It seems like he’s trying to rhetorically tie Iran in with ISIS, and paint a picture that they’re all just one big Muslim menace rather than fierce enemies of one another."

Soleimani led the Quds Force, which is responsible for the regional operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - a branch of the Iranian military and a designated terrorist organisation by Washington.

He was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad early in 2020, spiking tensions and bringing the two countries to the verge of an all-out war.

'City of God'

In his speech, Pompeo lauded Trump for nixing the Iran nuclear agreement, which saw Tehran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.

"The president exited the US from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and squeezed the ayatollah, Hezbollah and Hamas," he said referring to the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign that saw Washington pile sanctions on Tehran and its allies.

Costello said while Trump's policies have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, that came at a "profound cost".

"Iran’s nuclear programme has advanced, we’ve gone to the brink of war twice - including on the eve of a pandemic; the US is isolated at the Security Council, and Iranian hardliners who warned against trusting the US have been vindicated and empowered," he told MEE.

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The secretary of state repeatedly invoked religion in his speech. US media reports have speculated that Pompeo may be interested in a presidential run in 2024, when he will need the support of evangelical Christians who are a major Republican primary constituency. 

Trump admitted last week that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem - in defiance of the international community that upholds the disputed status of the city - aimed to please his evangelical supporters. 

In his convention address, Pompeo praised the move - with the golden Dome of the Rock glowing behind him.

"The president moved the US embassy to this very City of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland," Pompeo said. "And just two weeks ago, the president brokered a historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This is a deal that our grandchildren will read about in their history books."

Pompeo's speech had stirred controversy in Washington, with Democrats accusing the country's top diplomat of politicising his office and taking advantage of an official state visit to use Israel as a political prop.

On Tuesday, Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, pushed for an official probe to look into the legality of the speech. 

"It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting Secretary of State to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties. It appears that it may also be illegal," Castro said in a letter to the State Department. 

Invoking Israel

Several Jewish-American groups, including pro-Israel organisations, had also spoken out against using Israel in a domestic US political battle. 

Pompeo was not the first Republican convention speaker to mention Israel in defence of Trump. On Monday, former UN envoy Nikki Haley slammed Joe Biden and Barack Obama for refusing to block a 2016 Security Council resolution condemning settlements.

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"Obama and Biden led the United Nations to denounce our friend and ally, Israel," she said.

"President Trump moved our embassy to Jerusalem, and when the UN tried to condemn us, I was proud to cast the American veto."

Before Pompeo's speech was aired on Tuesday, Trump's son, Eric, cited the embassy move to Jerusalem as one of the president's achievements. 

A lobsterman from Maine who mainly praised Trump's efforts to boost the fishing industry also invoked the Jerusalem move when arguing that the president delivers on his promises.

Earlier on Tuesday, a small group of activists with the anti-war organisation Code Pink gathered to denounce Pompeo outside the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, where some of the convention speakers delivered their remarks.

"It's shameful that Mike Pompeo would give an address to the RNC from Jerusalem in a blatant using of religion, a blatant using of Judaism, to curry favor with the evangelicals and to further express this administration's disdain for Palestinian rights," Ariel Gold, national co-director of Code Pink, told MEE.

- This article has been updated to include comments on Pompeo's speech.

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