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Pompeo on tour: What the US secretary of state pledged during his Middle East trip

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East this month. Here's what he said - and how it was received
Pompeo criticised the Obama administration's Middle East policies in a speech in Cairo last week (AFP)

Mike Pompeo has left the Middle East after a seven-day tour that saw the US Secretary of State repeatedly attack Iran and denounce Obama-era policies, all while attempting to reassure Washington's regional allies over Donald Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from Syria.

While US-based analysts said Pompeo's trip largely failed to provide concrete information about the direction of the Trump administration's policies in the region, that didn't stop the senior United States official from making headlines as he visited several countries.

Pompeo is on his way home, and US policy in the Middle East is hazier than ever
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With stops in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among other places, Pompeo met with key leaders to discuss pressing issues on the US agenda, particularly the influence of Iran and continued US engagement in the region.

He also met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the kingdom's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has been under heightened international criticism since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.

Here's a look at what the US secretary of state said during his visits, and how Pompeo's comments were received by observers and others in the region.

Amman, Jordan - 8 January

Pompeo met with King Abdullah of Jordan during his visit to Amman (AFP)
Pompeo made his first stop in Jordan, where he maintained the US has not changed its longstanding policies in the region, despite Trump’s decision to withdraw about 2,000 US troops from Syria.

Speaking in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Pompeo reasserted that the US was “redoubling” its diplomatic and economic efforts to counter Tehran’s “malign influence” in the region.

Pompeo said the US was still committed to defeating the Islamic State (IS) group, but said Washington's "tactics have changed, not the mission".

Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria has been panned by critics accusing Washington of abandoning US-backed Kurdish fighters, who have been credited with leading the fight against IS in the war-torn country.

“The most significant threat to the region is Daesh [IS] and the Islamic Revolution,” Pompeo added, referring to Iran.

Following the speech, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, hit back at Pompeo’s remarks.

The US's "pure obsession with Iran is more and more like the behaviour of persistently failing psychotic stalkers," Zarif wrote on Twitter.

"In effect, US is substituting a real foreign policy with Iran- obsession and -phobia."

Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq - 9 January

Pompeo met with Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, in the province's capital Erbil (AFP)
Pompeo made an unannounced stop in Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul al-Mahdi, President Barham Salih and the country's foreign minister, Mohammed Hakim.

The major aim of the visit was to discuss the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and ensuring the defeat of IS there, the US State Department said.

Pompeo also travelled to Erbil to meet with members of the Iraqi Kurdistan government.

His meetings in Iraq came less than two weeks after Trump made a brief visit to a US military base in the country, drawing criticism for failing to meet a single Iraqi official.

Cairo, Egypt - 10 January

Pompeo spoke to the press during a tour of the newly-inaugurated Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque in Egypt's New Administrative Capital (AFP)
Pompeo met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the Ittihadeya Palace to discuss security and economic cooperation between the two countries.

He also held talks with Egypt's foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, before giving a heavily publicised - and widely panned - speech at the American University in Cairo.

In his address, Pompeo called for an end to rivalries in the Middle East and vowed to “expel every last Iranian boot from Syria”.

He also criticised the Obama administration's policies in the Middle East, suggesting that the former US president was responsible for the chaos in the region.

"He told you 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed 'a new beginning'.

"The results of these misjudgements have been dire," said Pompeo, referring to a 2009 speech Obama gave in Cairo in which he spoke of a new beginning for US foreign policy.

Pompeo also praised Sisi during his time in Cairo, failing to mention what human rights groups have described as an Egyptian government crackdown on dissenting voices and the detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners.

“I also applaud president Sisi’s efforts to promote religious freedom, which stands as an example for all leaders and all peoples of the Middle East," Pompeo said.

His speech was widely criticised on social media for failing to address human rights concerns in Egypt or the wider region.

Some observers also derided the US secretary of state for seeming to apply a double-standard in his criticism of Obama-era policies.

Manama, Bahrain - 11 January

Pompeo visited a US airbase in Bahrain during his Middle East tour (AFP)

After leaving Cairo, Pompeo headed to Bahrain, where he emphasised the importance confronting Iran.

He also urged the Gulf country to end an ongoing diplomatic rift with former regional ally Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt - all US allies - cut diplomatic ties and imposed a blockade of the small Gulf peninsula in June 2017 after accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, an allegation the Qatari government has denied.

Ending the ongoing dispute was one of Pompeo's major objectives during his regional tour this month, the US State Department said ahead of his departure.

"These Gulf partnerships are critical to achieving shared regional objectives - defeating, countering radical Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy supplies and rolling back Iranian aggression," a State Department spokesman said.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - 12 January

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan received Pompeo prior to their meeting at Al-Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi (AFP)
The United Arab Emirates' minister of state, Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, received Pompeo in Abu Dhabi, the second stop on his tour of a handful of Gulf countries.

Pompeo later met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The meetings were focused on strengthening cooperation between the US and the UAE in order to improve stability in the region, the State Department said.

The ongoing rift between Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member-states, including the UAE, was also on the agenda.

Doha, Qatar - 13 January

Pompeo met with the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, at the Sea Palace in Doha (AFP)
Pompeo arrived in Doha, the Qatari capital, calling for an end to the diplomatic dispute in the Gulf.

"When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful," Pompeo said.

"We’re hoping that the unity of GCC will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead."

Pompeo also asked the countries to take steps to solidify the Strategic Alliance of the Middle East (MESA), a NATO-like security pact that would include GCC countries, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

“Today, we ask each of those countries to take the next step and help us solidify MESA," said Pompeo, during his earlier stop in Egypt.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - 13 January

Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman during his tour of the Middle East (AFP)
Following weeks of international pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Pompeo went back to Riyadh to meet with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The US secretary of state had vowed to seek accountability for Khashoggi's murder during his stop in the Gulf kingdom, as well as to discuss Saudi Arabia's involvement in the devastating war in Yemen and the detention of Saudi women's rights activists.

Pompeo said he would raise Khashoggi's case directly with bin Salman, known as MBS, who the CIA has concluded ordered the journalist's killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

"We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring accountability," Pompeo said in Doha, before he left for Saudi Arabia.

The meeting with MBS drew criticism on social media, as people questioned whether those involved in the murder would face any real consequences.

Pompeo also discussed the fate of jailed women’s rights activists during his visit, which came at a time when the plight of Saudi teenager Rahaf al-Qunun was gaining international attention. Al-Qunun was recently granted asylum in Canada after she fled to Thailand, saying she feared for her life amid alleged abuse at the hands of her family.

The war in Yemen was also on Pompeo's agenda in Saudi Arabia, which launched a military offensive in the country in 2015 to root out Houthi rebels.

The US embassy in Riyadh tweeted that Pompeo and MBS also agreed on a need for a continued de-escalation zone in Yemen and the adherence to peace agreements that were recently reached in Sweden between the Houthis and a Saudi-backed, Yemeni government delegation.

Muscat, Oman - 14 January

Pompeo discussed regional issues with Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said al-Said at the Beit Al Baraka Royal Palace in Muscat (AFP)
Oman marked Pompeo’s final stop on his Middle East tour, after he cancelled his remaining visits in the region to fly back to the United States to attend a family funeral.

Pompeo met in Muscat with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said to discuss bilateral cooperation and ways to promote peace throughout the region, including in Yemen.

Building upon an already strong US-Oman partnership was also on the agenda, as were plans for the Middle East Strategic Alliance and the importance of a united GCC.

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