Pompeo First US Top Diplomat To Visit West Bank Settlement, Golan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (L) following a security briefing on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, near Merom Golan on the border with Syria, on November 19, 2020.  Patrick Semansky / POOL / AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first top American diplomat to visit a West Bank Jewish settlement and the disputed Golan Heights, cementing Donald Trump’s strongly pro-Israel legacy.

On a farewell tour of the Middle East, Pompeo also said exports from the settlements could now be labelled as “Made in Israel” and called a boycott movement against the Jewish state a “cancer”.

Pompeo held no meetings with Palestinians, who protested his actions and dismissed them as the latest sign of the outgoing Trump administration’s strong bias against them.

Accompanied by Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Pompeo travelled aboard a Blackhawk helicopter to the Golan Heights, a strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognised… This is a part of Israel,” Pompeo said.

Last year, Trump’s administration controversially recognised Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, and Pompeo on Thursday condemned what he described as calls from “the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America” for Israel to return the Golan to Syria.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (L) speaks alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following a security briefing on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, near Merom Golan on the border with Syria, on November 19, 2020.  Patrick Semansky / POOL / AFP

 

“Imagine with (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” Pompeo said.

Syria’s foreign ministry called Pompeo’s visit a “provocative step”, warning that “such criminal visits encourage (Israel) to continue its dangerous hostile approach.”

– Anti-Semitic ‘cancer’ –
Pompeo also said that Washington would designate as “anti-Semitic” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which calls for a wide-ranging embargo against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

“We will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups,” he said after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We want to stand with all other nations that recognise the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.”

Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and has long accused it of anti-Semitism, and a law passed in 2017 allows it to ban foreigners with links to the movement.

Activists strongly deny the charge, comparing it to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.

Condemning Pompeo’s announcement, Human Rights Watch said “the Trump administration has no business trying to tar groups because they back boycotts”, which it said had been used to advance social justice throughout American history.

Amnesty International called BDS a “form of non-violent advocacy and of free expression that must be protected”.

– West Bank visit –
Pompeo — who has so far backed Trump in refusing to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden — is on what was likely his final major Europe and Middle East tour in the post.

Netanyahu, who has congratulated Biden, thanked Pompeo for his “unwavering support” of Israel, first as CIA director and later secretary of state.

On Thursday, Pompeo also became the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, where the Psagot winery has named one of its red blends after him.

Winemaker Yaakov Berg, creator of the “Pompeo” wine, told AFP that the secretary of state’s support will ensure he is remembered by Jews “100 years from now”.

On the way there, Pompeo stopped at Qasr el-Yahud, revered as the site of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan Valley.

Pompeo said a year ago that the US no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be contrary to international law.

– Made in Israel’ –
He took a further step Thursday, announcing that the US would now consider exports from much of the West Bank as “Made in Israel”.

The new guidelines, he said, apply especially to Area C, the large part of the West Bank where Israel retains full civil and military control and where much of the settler population lives.

Area C also includes the strategic Jordan Valley and many Palestinian communities, areas that Israel considers to be disputed.

Pompeo’s announcement seemed to imply that even Palestinian exports from Area C should be tagged as Israeli products — as should the wine he sampled at Psagot.

Regarding products from areas under Palestinian control, they must now be marked as coming from the West Bank or Gaza, the coastal enclave controlled by the Hamas Islamist group.

That decision effectively means that, at least through Trump’s remaining days in office, the US will not recognise exports as coming from the Palestinian Territories.

The decision on labelling “blatantly violates international law,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, dismissing it as yet another biased move by Trump’s administration.

AFP

Pompeo Affirms Support For Georgia As Russian Influence Grows

 

 


COSTAS BALTAS / POOL / AFP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday sought to reassure Georgia of Washington’s commitment to strengthening ties during a visit to the region where Russia is asserting its influence.

Pompeo’s meetings with leaders of Georgia came a week after Moscow brokered a peace deal between neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia that sees 2,000 Russian peacekeepers stationed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Anti-government demonstrators blocked the main street through the capital Tbilisi during the visit to voice anger over recent parliamentary elections the opposition said were rigged.

“We’ve been great friends almost 30 years on for your democracy,” Pompeo said during a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Pompeo vowed support for Georgia’s democratic development and said the United States recognised “the pain and difficulty connected to the occupation of your country,” referring to Russian troops stationed in two breakaway regions.

“Know that we want to do everything we can to support your democratic process…  with free and fair elections,” he added.

Russia’s deployment of peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabkh last week unsettled Georgia, which in 2008 lost a brief war with Moscow over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia recognised the breakaway provinces and stationed military bases in the regions, derailing Tbilisi’s bid to join NATO, a long-time aspiration backed by the US but angrily opposed by Russia.

Pompeo made the visit to Georiga as part of a tour of seven US allies and he held talks with President Salome Zurabishvili and later with Gakharia and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.

“Our strategic partnership is based first of all on values – freedom, democracy, and of course shared geostrategic interests,” Gakharia said during his meeting with Pompeo.

– ‘Political turmoil’

The US embassy said ahead of Pompeo’s meetings that he would discuss “the importance of free and fair elections” with Georgian officials.

Georgia has recently been destabilised by anger over parliamentary elections which the ruling Georgian Dream party won narrowly on October 31, but which the opposition has denounced as rigged.

Opposition parties have staged mass protests demanding snap polls and refused to enter the new parliament, in a boycott that has undermined the ruling party’s legitimacy.

Opposition leaders said they hoped Pompeo would push the Georgian Dream-led government towards compromise, an expectation echoed by demonstrators in Tbilisi Wednesday.

Thousands of opposition protesters formed a human chain in the capital’s main thoroughfare, waving US and Georgian flags and holding placards that read “rigged elections” and “we need your voice.”

But a US diplomat told journalists “we’re not going to have the Secretary of State get pulled into domestic political disputes and turmoil.”

The diplomat added that the message the US wanted to deliver was: “use the institutions, don’t just boycott them and achieve your gains that way”.

Yet the way electoral violations were addressed by Georgia’s election commission “added to the sense of suspicion about to whether the results were credible or not,” the diplomat conceded.

A staunch US ally, Georgia is one of the most pluralistic countries to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, although concerns have been growing that it is backsliding on democracy.

Critics accuse the ruling party’s billionaire leader Bidzina Ivanishvili — who is widely seen to be calling the shots in Georgia — of persecuting political opponents and creating a corrupt system where private interests permeate politics.

Before departing for Israel on Wednesday afternoon, Pompeo met with representatives of civil society and the influential head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.

AFP

Pompeo To Meet Australia, India, Japan FMs In Tokyo

 

Top diplomats from the United States, India, Australia and Japan will gather in Tokyo next week for rare face-to-face talks on tackling the coronavirus and strengthening co-operation, Japan said Tuesday.

The four nations have in recent years formed a strategic grouping — known as the “Quad” — meant to serve as a counterweight to China and promote their vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

The meeting on October 6 will be attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced he would host the four-way talks — the second such meeting after the first was held in New York last year.

“It is the right time for these like-minded foreign ministers to gather in Tokyo for face-to-face talks, to exchange views about how to deal with issues that have emerged from the spread of the coronavirus, along with regional affairs,” he told reporters at a regular briefing.

It will be the first ministerial-level international meeting hosted by Japan since the pandemic began, and also since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took power this month.

Japan is moving gradually to open its borders to more foreigners, particularly business travellers, as it prepares to hold the postponed Olympics next summer.

AFP

Pompeo Urges Greece, Turkey To Resolve Territorial Dispute

In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC. AFP

 

The United States welcomed on Monday Greece’s willingness to look for a solution to a territorial dispute with Turkey, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Greek officials.

Rival claims to potentially resource-rich territory under the Mediterranean should be resolved “peacefully in accordance with international law”, said Pompeo and Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in a joint statement after holding talks in Thessaloniki.

The two NATO members have spent weeks at loggerheads after Ankara sent exploration vessels into disputed waters, roping in other European powers and raising concern about a wider escalation.

Turkey has also angered Greece by repeatedly casting doubt on postwar treaties setting out the status quo in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.

But last week Athens and Ankara said they were ready to start talks.

“Let’s meet, let’s talk and let’s seek a mutually acceptable solution. Let’s give diplomacy a chance,” Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an address to the virtual UN General Assembly.

Pompeo, on a two-day visit to Greece, said in the joint statement that the US “welcomed Greece’s confirmed readiness to engage with other countries in the region to achieve maritime delimitation agreements”.

“The strength of our bilateral relationship is at an all-time high,” Pompeo tweeted earlier on Monday.

He will fly to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday and tour the NATO naval base of Souda Bay.

Mitsotakis — who is hosting Pompeo at his family home on Crete — wants closer military ties with the US.

The secretary of state last October signed a defence agreement allowing US forces a broader use of Greek military facilities.

On Monday, both sides said they intended to “further enhance their strategic defence and security partnership” in talks in Washington next year.

A key element of the October deal was the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis, a Balkans and Black Sea gateway of strategic value to the US navy and NATO.

The US has been granted priority status to the port after paying roughly $2.3 million (2 million euros) to remove a sunken dredging barge that had blocked part of the harbour since 2010.

At the time, Greek officials said the Pentagon was expected to invest over $14 million on the Greek airbase of Larissa and around six million euros at Marathi, part of the Souda base.

– Pressure on Huawei –

The visit to Thessaloniki is also intended as a sign to the Balkans on American willingness to invest in the region, the State Department said.

Pompeo signed a bilateral science and technology agreement, and hosted an energy sector gathering of business leaders.

Pompeo’s tour later in the week also includes stops in Italy, the Vatican and Croatia.

In Rome, the secretary of state will discuss efforts by the Trump administration to deter its European allies from using equipment by Chinese manufacturer Huawei in developing their 5G networks.

The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for Chinese espionage.

Pompeo is also scheduled to attend a meeting at the Vatican on religious freedom, his human rights priority. There, too, he will warn of China’s actions against minorities, including Muslims.

AFP

US To ‘Impose Consequences’ If UN Fails To Implement Iran Sanctions – Pompeo

 

Mike-Pompeo
File photo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Secretary Pompeo spoke on several topics including the coronavirus and the recent truce with the Taliban. Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP.

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that UN sanctions against Iran were “back in effect” and said the US would “impose consequences” if the international body’s member states did not implement them.

But the US is isolated on the matter, with other major powers, especially its European allies, assuring on the contrary that the sanctions are not back and the American procedure is without legal effect.

“If UN Member States fail to fulfill their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity,” Pompeo said.

AFP

Pompeo To Tour Region After UAE-Israel Deal

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 9, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference with Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe during the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC. - The United States said July 9, 2020 it would refuse visas for three top Chinese officials and their families over the "horrific and systematic abuses" against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the officials who would be refused entry include Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary for the Xinjiang region who is considered an architect of Beijing's hardline policies on minorities. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
In this file photo taken on November 9, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference with Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe during the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

 

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in Jerusalem on Monday to start a tour focused on Israel’s normalising of ties with the UAE and pushing other Arab states to follow suit.

After meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he is set to visit senior figures in Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said Sunday.

Israel had previously only signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, two neighbours with which it had technically been at war, unlike the United Arab Emirates.

Following the US-sponsored deal announced on August 13, the new partners say they want to promote trade, especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the Emirates, as well as boosting tourism by establishing direct air links.

Key to that plan would be persuading Saudi Arabia to open its airspace, between Israel and the Gulf, to Israeli commercial airlines.

During his visit, Pompeo will “discuss regional security issues related to Iran’s malicious influence (and) establishing and deepening Israel’s relationships in the region,” the State Department said in a statement.

President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, announced in January, saw cooperation between Israel and those Arab countries who, like Israel, see Iran as their main foe.

It also gave the Jewish state a green light to annex parts of the West Bank — something Israel committed to “suspending” under the UAE deal, without saying for how long.

The Palestinians have slammed the UAE’s move as a “stab in the back” while their own conflict with the Jewish state remains unresolved.

But the UAE ambassador to Washington, writing on the front page of Israel’s top-selling daily, said closer ties would benefit everybody.

“They will help move the region beyond the ugly legacy of hostility and conflicts, towards a destiny of hope, peace and prosperity,” he wrote in Yediot Aharonot’s weekend edition.

– F-35 in the crosshairs –

Tel Aviv daily Israel Hayom, a staunch backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote Sunday that direct talks between the sides on the wording of the deal were close to starting and “a full agreement could be reached within a month.”

 

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

A signing ceremony is set to be held at the White House within that timeframe, the paper wrote.

Reports that the agreement hinges on the sale of US F-35 Stealth jets to the Emirates have been vigorously denied by Netanyahu, who says he opposes the move as it could reduce Israel’s regional strategic edge.

“The Emiratis are saying there was a promise there, the Israelis are saying no,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, professor in the department of Middle Eastern studies at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv.

Historically, Israel (which has F-35s) has opposed the sale of advanced weaponry to other Middle East states, even Jordan and Egypt with which it has peace treaties.

But Teitelbaum said that in the past such objections have been finessed, citing the US sale to Israel and Saudi Arabia of F-15 fighters.

“From what I understand arrangements are made that the version that the Arab country gets is not the absolute latest version,” he told AFP.

“Israel is allowed to put certain modifications in the software that allow it to maintain its edge.”

There can also be cost advantages as a sweetener, he said.

“The Israeli F-15s and the Saudi F-15s were made in the same factory” in the US, he went on.

“The fact that Israel gave its wink to the Saudi F-15s allowed the actual price to be lowered for the Israelis, because it allowed the assembly line to run (longer) at that factory.”

– Bahrain, Oman, Sudan? –

The surprise announcement of the Israel-Emirati pact sparked huge speculation on who might be next, with frequent mentions of Bahrain and Sudan, which is turning its back on the Omar al-Bashir era.

Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which for years supported hardline Islamist forces.

Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman was fired last week after he made allegedly unauthorised comments indicating contact had been made with Israel regarding normalising ties.

But the State Department said Pompeo would meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during his tour, to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship”,

He will also meet Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa before meeting UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss the Israel deal, it said.

Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by the majority of Arab states, has said it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians.

AFP

US Offers $15m Reward For Arrest Of Venezuela’s President Maduro

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 21, 2019 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks after meeting Chilean High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas. The US Treasury Department on June 27, 2019 indicted two former influential figures in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government on money laundering and corruption charges. YURI CORTEZ / AFP

 

The United States will offer $15 million for information leading to the arrest of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on drug-trafficking charges, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

Pompeo announced the reward as the Justice Department unveiled charges against Maduro, describing him like a common criminal rather than a head of state as Washington tries to help opposition leader Juan Guaido take power.

“The Venezuelan people deserve a transparent, responsible, representative government that serves the needs of the people — and that does not betray the trust of the people by condoning or employing public officials that engage in illicit narcotics trafficking,” Pompeo said in a statement.

AFP

‘The West Is Winning’ – Pompeo Defends US Global Role

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on the podium at the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 15, 2020. Christof STACHE / AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on the podium at the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 15, 2020. Christof STACHE / AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday rejected European pessimism about Washington’s retreat from the global stage, saying the death of the transatlantic bond is “grossly overexaggerated”.

“The West is winning and we’re winning together,” Pompeo said at the Munich Security Conference.

The annual gathering of world leaders, generals and diplomats to discuss security challenges has been dominated by fears of diminishing Western influence in the face of a more assertive China and Russia.

Pompeo spoke a day after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested the United States rejected “even the idea of an international community” and was acting “at the expense of neighbours and partners”.

“Those statements don’t reflect reality. I’m happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated,” Pompeo said, paraphrasing a famous Mark Twain quote.

He said Washington played a key role in keeping Europe safe by reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank on the border with Russia, and had led a multinational effort to defeat the Islamic State jihadist group.

“Is this an America that ‘rejects the international community’?” he asked.

“The free West has a brighter future than illiberal alternatives.”

He also warned of the threats posed by Russia’s territorial ambitions, China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and Iran’s “campaigns of terror” through proxy conflicts in the Middle East.

In a nod to concerns about European reliance on Russian natural gas, Pompeo also announced that the US would finance energy projects in eastern EU countries.

“The United States –- through our International Development Finance Corporation, and with the support of the US Congress -– intends to provide up to $1 billion in financing to the Central and Eastern European countries of the Three Seas Initiative,” Pompeo told the conference.

“Our aim is to galvanise private sector investment in their energy sectors.”

The pledge comes amid fierce US opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double the country’s gas shipments to Germany.

Washington believes the pipeline will give Russia too much influence over security and economic issues in western Europe.

 

AFP

Pompeo Sees ‘Real Likelihood’ Iran Will Try To Hit US Troops

In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC. AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran will probably try to attack American troops after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander.

“We think there is a real likelihood Iran will make a mistake and make a decision to go after some of our forces, military forces in Iraq or soldiers in northeast Syria,” he told Fox News in remarks aired Sunday.

His comments came as the military advisor to Iran’s supreme leader said there would be a “military” response “against military sites” by Tehran after the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of its Revolutionary Guards.

“It would be a big mistake for Iran to go after them,” Pompeo told Fox.

The US has about 60,000 troops in the region, including around 5,200 in Iraq. Washington ordered thousands more soldiers to the region on Friday after Soleimani’s killing.

“We’re preparing for all kinds of various responses,” including cyber attacks, Pompeo told Fox.

China slams Pompeo for ‘Cold War thinking’ in Berlin speech

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after making press statements prior to talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on November 8, 2019.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after making press statements prior to talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on November 8, 2019.

 

China on Monday accused Mike Pompeo of “outdated Cold War thinking” after the US Secretary of State warned against a Chinese threat to Western freedoms.

Pompeo — who spoke in Germany on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — said the Chinese Communist Party “uses tactics and methods to suppress its own people that would be horrifyingly familiar to former East Germans”.

He added that Washington has made clear to Beijing that they should “honour their commitment” to the “one country, two systems” policy that allows Hong Kong rights unseen in the mainland.

In response Beijing slammed Pompeo’s “baseless malicious attacks” on the Chinese government.

Some figures in the US have “attempted to build an ideological wall between Chinese and foreign enterprises,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Monday at a regular press briefing.

Geng accused Pompeo of ignoring the interest of the American people to pursue personal political goals, and urged him to “abandon his ideological bias and outdated Cold War thinking”.

Pompeo’s visit to Berlin came as Germany prepared to mark three decades since November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, ultimately culminating in the collapse of the communist regime in the east.

Pompeo said on Friday that the United States and its allies should “defend what was so hard-won… in 1989” and “recognise we are in a competition of values with unfree nations”.

His Berlin speech was the latest in a string of hawkish remarks on China by the Secretary of State.

In October, Pompeo called Beijing “truly hostile” to the United States, and vowed to ramp up pressure on China on multiple fronts.

 

AFP

Pompeo To Press Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi’s Murder

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday arrived in Riyadh, where he is set to press Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to hold the killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi accountable.

The top US diplomat, on an extensive Middle East tour, embarked on his second politically sensitive visit to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder inside its Istanbul consulate sparked an international outcry.

“We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring the accountability is full and complete with respect to the unacceptable murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Pompeo told reporters in Qatar, before flying to the Saudi capital.

“We’ll… make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable, certainly by the Saudis but by the United States as well.”

After landing in Riyadh, Pompeo pushed for Saudi Arabia to continue its investigation into the murder, in talks with Adel al-Jubeir, minister of state for foreign affairs, and the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was murdered on October 2 in what Saudi Arabia called a “rogue” operation, tipping the kingdom into one of its worst diplomatic crises and subsequently straining ties between Riyadh and Washington.

Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will be hosted by Prince Mohammed, is part of an extensive eight-day trip to Amman, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat, and finally Kuwait City.

Smiles with MBS 

US President Donald Trump has brushed aside international outrage to stand by Prince Mohammed over the murder of Khashoggi, whose corpse was dismembered at the consulate.

His support has come despite the US Central Intelligence Agency’s reported conclusion that Prince Mohammed very likely ordered the murder. A bipartisan resolution approved by the US Senate last month also held the crown prince responsible for the killing.

Riyadh prosecutors have announced indictments against 11 people and are seeking the death penalty against five of them. But Prince Mohammed, whose right-hand aides were allegedly involved in the murder, was exonerated by prosecutors.

On a previous visit to Riyadh at the height of the Khashoggi affair, Pompeo’s broad smiles with the crown prince outraged some Americans.

However, Trump has said Washington wants to preserve the alliance with the oil-rich kingdom, which he sees as a bulwark against common foe Iran and a lucrative buyer of US arms.

Rights groups have called on Pompeo to also press Prince Mohammed over the jailing of women activists in the kingdom, amid claims that some of them faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation.

“I am struck by what is not included in Pompeo’s itinerary: the brave women activists of Saudi Arabia, who are being held in the kingdom’s prisons for seeking rights and dignity,” Alia al-Hathloul wrote in The New York Times Sunday.

Hathloul’s sister, Loujain, is among more than a dozen activists arrested last May — just before the historic lifting of Saudi Arabia’s decades-long ban on women drivers.

Gulf crisis 

Pompeo met the Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during his visit to Doha, where he refused to comment on reports Washington had recently considered military action against Tehran.

He also called on Qatar and other Gulf countries to end the worst political rift in the region for years, which has seen Doha diplomatically and economically isolated by neighbouring former allies for the past 19 months.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — all US allies — cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and seeking closer ties to Saudi arch-rival Iran.

Qatar — also a US ally — denies the allegations and accuses the countries of seeking regime change.

“As for the GCC… we are all more powerful when we’re working together when we have common challenges in the region and around the world,” Pompeo said, referring to the six member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“Disputes between countries that have a shared objective are never helpful.”

He added that “President Trump and I both believe the ongoing dispute in the region has gone on too long”.

However, Pompeo later admitted in a Q&A session with US embassy staff in Doha that no progress was made on resolving the issue.

Mediation efforts by the United States, which at first appeared to back the boycott of Qatar, have stalled, as highlighted by the recent resignation of US envoy Anthony Zinni.

For Washington, turning the page on the crisis is essential for the successful launch of the Strategic Alliance of the Middle East (MESA), which is a NATO-style security pact that includes Gulf countries as well as Egypt and Jordan.

The US and Qatar held the second “strategic dialogue” between the two countries on Sunday and signed agreements on defence, education and culture.

AFP

Saudi Arabia Must Hold Khashoggi Killers ‘Accountable’ – Pompeo

Khashoggi Killers 'Will Be Prosecuted In Saudi Arabia' - Govt
Jamal Khashoggi/ AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that he would ask Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to ensure the murderers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are held “accountable”.

 

The top US diplomat, on an extensive Middle East tour, spoke ahead of a politically sensitive visit to Saudi Arabia, which has faced intense international scrutiny over Khashoggi’s murder inside its Istanbul consulate.

“We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring the accountability is full and complete with respect to the unacceptable murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Pompeo told reporters at a press conference in Qatar.

“So, we’ll continue to talk about that and make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable, certainly by the Saudis but by the United States as well.”

Pompeo is due to travel to Saudi Arabia later on Sunday as part of an eight-day trip to Amman, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat, and finally Kuwait City.

He was speaking to journalists in Doha after meeting his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

He will meet the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, before heading to Saudi Arabia.

 Smiles with MBS 

Khashoggi was killed on October 2 in a case which stunned the world and threatened a serious rift between Riyadh and Washington.

The journalist was murdered and his corpse dismembered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Evidence subsequently emerged that the killing was done by a team of Saudis sent from Riyadh and closely linked to the crown prince. Washington subsequently demanded a transparent investigation.

Riyadh prosecutors have announced indictments against 11 people, and are seeking the death penalty against five of them.

But Prince Mohammed, whose right-hand aides were allegedly involved in the murder, was exonerated by prosecutors despite US intelligence reportedly having evidence that he was behind it.

On a previous visit to Riyadh at the height of the Khashoggi affair, Pompeo’s broad smiles with the crown prince outraged some Americans.

However, US President Donald President Trump has said Washington wants to preserve the alliance with the kingdom, although the US Senate has clearly blamed Prince Mohammed for the murder.

Washington is eager for regional unity to gain widespread support its fight against Iran.

Pompeo refused on Sunday to comment on reports that Washington had recently considered military action against Tehran.

 Gulf crisis 

He also called on Qatar and other Gulf countries to end the worst political rift in the region for years, which has seen Doha diplomatically and economically isolated by neighbouring former allies for the past 19 months.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — all US allies — cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and seeking closer ties to Saudi arch-rival Iran.

Qatar — also a US ally — denies the allegations and accuses the countries of seeking regime change.

“As for the GCC… we are all more powerful when we’re working together when we have common challenges in the region and around the world,” Pompeo said, referring to the six member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“Disputes between countries that have a shared objective are never helpful.

“We’re hopeful that unity in the GCC will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead.”

He added that “President Trump and I both believe the ongoing dispute in the region has gone on too long”.

Washington, which at first appeared to back the boycott of Qatar, has so far been unsuccessful in trying to end the dispute.

Attempts at mediation have stalled, as highlighted by the recent resignation of US envoy Anthony Zinni.

“It was time for a change and he made his decision to move on but America’s commitment remains unchanged,” said Pompeo of Zinni.

For Washington, turning the page on the crisis is essential for the successful launch of the Strategic Alliance of the Middle East (MESA), which is a NATO-style security pact that includes Gulf countries as well as Egypt and Jordan.

The US and Qatar held the second “strategic dialogue” between the two countries on Sunday, and signed agreements on defence, education and culture.

“This reflects the good and historical relationship between the two countries,” said the Qatari foreign minister.

AFP