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New US Secretary of State Pompeo arrives in Riyadh for talks

US urges its European allies and others to impose sanctions on Iran to curb its missile programme
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AFP/file photo)

New US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first stop of his hastily arranged visit to the Middle East as decisions on the Iran nuclear deal and a review of the US role in Syria loom large.

Pompeo was met on the tarmac in Riyadh by a sizeable Saudi Arabian delegation, including the kingdom's foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and its ambassador to the US, Khalid bin Salman, brother of the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Arab News reported.

A State Department official said the visit to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Amman just two days after Pompeo was sworn in as the top US diplomat was also aimed at forging closer ties with important US allies in the Middle East.

Pompeo had dinner with Saudi Arabia's crown prince and on Sunday is due to meet his father, King Salman.

Pompeo was then due to fly to Jerusalem to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then to Amman in Jordan, wrapping up a weekend of talks with some of Iran's most fervent foes in the region.

Pompeo said on Friday he would discuss the future of the Iran nuclear deal in his talks.

US President Donald Trump has called the agreement the "worst deal ever" and has threatened to reimpose sanctions against Iran unless European allies Britain, France and Germany agree to fix it. Resuming sanctions would likely kill the deal.

Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France, which all struck the accord with Iran and the United States, see the deal as the best way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

Still, the US is urging its European allies and others to impose sanctions on Iran to curb its missile programme, calling it an international threat to peace and security.

"We are urging nations around the world to sanction any individuals and entities associated with Iran's missile programme, and it has also been a big part of discussions with Europeans," Brian Hook, senior policy adviser to Pompeo, told reporters in Riyadh.

Missile salvo

Hook said a salvo of ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Iran-allied Houthi movement that killed a man earlier on Saturday had been provided by Tehran.

"Iran's missiles prolong war and suffering in the Middle East; they threaten our security and economic interests, and they especially threaten Saudi Arabia and Israel," he said.

The 2015 deal that limits Iran's nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief does not cover its missile programme.

Speaking after a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Friday, Pompeo said Trump had not yet decided whether to abandon the deal but was not likely to stick to it without substantial changes.

"There's been no decision, so the team is working, and I am sure we will have lots of conversations to deliver what the president has made clear," Pompeo told a news conference.

Earlier in the week, French President Emmanuel Macron called on the United States not to abandon the deal, although later he acknowledged he thought Trump would pull out, based on his long opposition to it.

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The Trump administration is also reviewing the US role in fighting the Islamic State group in Syria’s seven-year conflict. Trump has called on Gulf countries to provide funding and troops to stabilise areas once controlled by the group in Syria.

Pompeo also has a second, more personal, mission, to show foreign capitals and his own colleagues that US diplomacy is back on track after the troubled reign of his sacked predecessor, Rex Tillerson, the Arab News said.

Trump’s first secretary of state, a former oil executive, failed to fill senior positions, embarked on unpopular bureaucratic reforms and had conspicuously little chemistry with the president, according to the Arab News.

Pompeo was one of the first Trump administration officials to visit Saudi Arabia early in his previous job as CIA director.

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