United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s ongoing visit to key American allies in the region highlights Washington’s focus on stability, peace and security in the Middle East. Last week, Pompeo travelled to Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. After a brief visit to Bahrain on Friday, he arrived in the UAE. Other stops in the Arabian Gulf include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
One of the key elements of Pompeo’s trip is to ensure that Iran does not continue to be a destabilising influence in the region. To achieve that end, the US is planning to jointly host a global conference in Poland next month, and it will focus on the Middle East, particularly Iran. More than 70 countries, including all European Union (EU) members, have been invited to the conference.
Pompeo’s swing through the region is mainly aimed at reassuring close US allies who are alarmed by Washington’s rather abrupt decision to withdraw from Syria, thereby giving Iran and Turkey carte blanche in the war-torn Arab state. It was no surprise that the US move was welcomed both in Tehran and Ankara. The announcement not only shocked US allies, but also sparked strong criticism in America. With Pompeo’s trip, Washington seeks to reassure its allies in the region that it will not retreat until the war on terror has been conclusively won and until the last remnants of Daesh have been defeated. Pompeo has tried hard to drive home this message during his meetings with regional leaders.
In his speech in Cairo, he was at pains to explain that Washington will work with allies to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria. Until Iran and its proxy militias leave Syria, Pompeo warned, there would be no US reconstruction aid for areas controlled by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. However, some may allege that US goals on Iranian presence in Syria seem ambitious; Pompeo’s strong words came just as American troops began pulling out.
It is no secret that the Trump team has taken a dim view of the policies of the previous US administration in the region, especially the nuclear deal with Iran. On Thursday, in Cairo, Pompeo said the US had learned from former president Barack Obama’s “mistakes” in the region and was reasserting its “traditional role as a force for good” in the Middle East. The symbolism of his speech was not lost on anyone, as it came almost exactly a decade after Obama’s address in the Egyptian capital about seeking a “new beginning” with Muslim countries.