McLARTY MIDDLE EAST UPDATE: Debrief of Sec. Pompeo’s regional tour
January 16, 2o19
Secretary Pompeo conducted his multi-country tour of the Middle East during a particularly challenging chapter in US relations with many of its allies in the region. Following President Trump’s announcement to withdraw US forces from Syria last month, the subsequent resignation of Secretary Mattis over differences in regional strategy, ongoing international backlash over the Khashoggi affair, and growing congressional opposition to US support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, Pompeo’s overarching goal was to provide clarity on US priorities in the region. Meeting with leaders in Amman, Baghdad, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, and Muscat, Pompeo sought to reaffirm US commitment to partners in the region and outline the Administration’s policy vision for stability and security in the Middle East.
- Pompeo talked regional security – and the threat the Iranian regime poses to it – first and foremost at every stop. The Secretary emphasized countering Iranian revolutionary behavior and combatting radical Islamist terrorism as the main security issues facing the region. With the campaign in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) nearing its final stages, Pompeo described the Iranian regime as “the single greatest threat to regional stability” and repeatedly renewed the US request for regional allies to confront Iranian aggression accordingly. The need for political solutions in Syria and Yemen were also often included in these discussions.
- Pompeo went to great lengths to assert the US’ full commitment to the maximum pressure campaign against Iran and allay concerns among allies regarding the Syrian withdrawal announcement. The Secretary described a “doubling down” of commercial and diplomatic efforts as essential to the effort. Pompeo discussed the need for Iraqi energy independence with leaders in Baghdad and advocated for an expansion of Jordanian-Iraqi commercial ties during his trip to Amman. Notably, Pompeo’s meetings in Iraq were followed by King Abdullah II’s first trip to Iraq in over a decade, partially to finalize an oil pipeline project.
- Throughout the trip, Pompeo stood in unison with President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria but declined to outline any specific timetable. Pompeo explained to allies that the withdrawal of forces from Syria was merely a “tactical change” to an unchanged US mission in the Middle East.
- Pompeo conceded during remarks in Doha that it is “not at all clear that the (GCC) rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday.” Pompeo nonetheless reiterated the US position that the embargo has “dragged on for too long,” and added that a united GCC is “critical to achieving shared regional objectives” of eliminating ISIS, countering radical Islamist terrorism, maintaining stability in the global energy market, and combatting Iranian aggression.
- The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) still remains an advertised hope in the Administration’s regional strategy. With the US acting as a guarantor, the proposed alliance – comprised of GCC states plus Egypt and Jordan – would theoretically assume the mantle of providing mutual security to the region. While acknowledging the need for a unified GCC in establishing such an alliance, Pompeo dismissed the notion that an agreement currently seemed “less viable.” During the Secretary’s trip, Oman hosted meetings on “the economic and energy pillars” of MESA, and the State Department later announced an upcoming ministerial conference on Middle East security, to be hosted in Warsaw next month.
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