Countering Iran tops agenda of Pompeo in Saudi Arabia

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and I discussed the ongoing threat posed by the Iranian regime," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Regional security. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, February 20. (AP)

LONDON - With countering Iran on top of the agenda, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded a 3-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he had high-level meetings with Saudi officials and met with members of the US military stationed in the kingdom.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received Pompeo on February 20 in Riyadh, Saudi media reported, where the two discussed regional and international developments.

“The secretary and the king discussed bilateral issues, including countering the malign influence of the Iranian regime, as well as the need for cooperation on regional conflicts such as Syria and Yemen,” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Pompeo also met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan.

“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and I discussed the ongoing threat posed by the Iranian regime,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

“We also discussed the situations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the need for a united Gulf Cooperation Council. We stand together with Saudi Arabia in addressing these regional security challenges.”

Pompeo met with US military commanders at a Saudi airbase where approximately 2,500 US troops are stationed.

US Air Force F-15E jet fighters fly daily missions from the base over Iraq and Syria. There are also two Patriot missile air defence batteries to guard against attacks on Saudi Arabia.

“Pompeo’s visit to Prince Sultan Airbase and a nearby US Patriot battery highlights the longstanding US-Saudi security relationship and reaffirms America’s determination to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian malign behaviour,” the State Department said in a statement.

It said the US deployment of missile defence systems and jets was part of “a defensive mission to deter and protect against any future attacks,” the statement added.

Last September, a drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, in eastern Saudi Arabia, compromised oil production for the kingdom. Although Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility, forensic evidence pointed towards the attack originating from Iran.

The visit by Pompeo comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region, particularly after a US drone strike killed the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps al-Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad January 3. Iran vowed retaliation.

Pompeo and US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid were asked to shed light on conversations with Saudi officials regarding the deployment of US troops in the kingdom.

Abizaid said, with the ships attacked in the Arabian Gulf and the more than 400 Iran-made missiles that targeted Saudi Arabia from Yemen, the Saudis asked for support.

“So, they naturally turned to us for support, and our support has been defensive. They’ve never asked for offensive support,” Abizaid said.

Pompeo said the administration’s approach to countering Iran differs dramatically from the previous US administration.

“They’re not going to get nuclear weapons. We’re going to prevent that,” Pompeo pledged, stressing that the Obama administration had taken a very different approach.

“They underwrote these very capabilities, right? The very missile systems that are being launched today were funded by the plan that the previous administration had put in place, supplying hundreds of billions of dollars to the Islamic Republic... to the regime,” he said.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

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