Mike Pompeo Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Washington’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is “fundamental to the stability and security of the region,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday.

“The relationship must go forward. We have to have good relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this administration intends to do so,” Pompeo said in an interview with Al Arabiya.

Pompeo will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Sunday and plans to address many regional issues.

When asked if it was a partnership or a friendship with Saudi Arabia, Pompeo told Al Arabiya: "Call it what you will. They've been great partners in the missions that we have asked them to assist us with.

Stability

He added: “This relationship, this mutually beneficial relationship to create stability in the Middle East — and to assist the US in executing things that keep the American people safe — is very important. And I'm convinced the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be a great ally in doing so."

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a tour in the region. Image Credit: Reuters

Pompeo arrived in Abu Dhabi over the weekend, one of the stops on his nine-nation tour of Middle East, and his travels will continue on Sunday with stops in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

He will wrap the tour up on Monday and Tuesday in Oman and Kuwait.

Pompeo's Middle east touris aimed at reassuring America's partners that withdrawing troops from Syria does not mean Washington is abandoning the region.

Pompeo has traveled to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates where he called for increasing pressure on Iran and push for unity among Gulf neighbours still embroiled in a festering dispute with Qatar.

Arab Nato

He'll also promoted a US-backed initiative to form what some have termed an "Arab Nato" that would bring the region together in a military alliance to counter threats from Iran.

In Bahrain, the UAE and later Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, Pompeo will also be making the case as he did on previous stops in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt that President Donald Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria is not a sign Washington is retreating from the fight against Daesh.

The trip came as a U.S. military official announced Friday that the withdrawal had begun, though he declined to comment on specific timetables or movements.

US partnerships with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council "are critical to achieving shared regional objectives: defeating Daesh, countering radical terrorism, protecting global energy supplies, and rolling back Iranian aggression," the State Department said in a statement released as Pompeo departed Egypt for Bahrain, home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

But the now 2-year-old crisis between GCC members Saudi Arabia and UAE and Qatar has hampered US attempts to forge a unified front against Iran.

Backbone of regional peace

Washington's efforts to ease the dispute, begun by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have thus far failed and took another hit this week when the former general tasked to broker a solution stepped down.

"A united GCC is the backbone for regional peace, prosperity, security, and stability, and is essential to countering the single greatest threat to regional stability: the Iranian regime," the State Department said.

At each of his stops in the Gulf, Pompeo will be urging progress on creating the Middle East Strategic Alliance, which would join GCC militaries with those of Egypt and Jordan to serve as a counter-balance to Iran, which they all accuse of fomenting unrest and rebellion throughout the region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) takes a tour of the newly-inaugrated Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque in Egypt's New Administrative Capital, 45 kilometres east of Cairo. Image Credit: AFP

Pompeo told Fox News before departing from Cairo that there would be an international conference on Iran and the Middle East in Poland on February 13-14.

Yemen conflict

During his trip, Pompeo will also call for boosting efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling Iranian-backed rebels in what the UN says is now the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the department said.

UN-led peace efforts in Yemen, along with attempts to broker a political solution to the war in Syria that "expels every last Iranian boot from the country" and promoting reconciliation in Afghanistan will also be high on Pompeo's agenda, the State Department said.

In Cairo, Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of former President Barack Obama's Middle East policies that Obama had outlined in a 2009 address to the Arab and broader Muslim world.

In a speech entitled "A Force for Good: America's Reinvigorated Role in the Middle East," Pompeo accused the former president of "misguided" thinking that diminished America's role in the region while harming its long-time friends and emboldening Iran.

He assailed the Obama administration for being "naive" and "timid" when confronted with challenges posed by the revolts that convulsed the Middle East, including Egypt, beginning in 2011.

Pompeo blamed the previous administration's approach to the Mideast for the ills that consume it now, particularly the rise of the Daesh (the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria) and Iran's increasing assertiveness, which he said was a direct result of sanctions relief, since rescinded by the Trump administration, granted to it under the 2015 nuclear deal.

He also said Obama ignored the growth of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon to the detriment of Israel's security and not doing enough to push back on Iran-supported rebels in Yemen.

And, he said the Trump administration was taking action to repair the damage.

Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal last year, the administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilizing influence in the region.

It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what US officials describe as its "malign activities" throughout the Mideast and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups, and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

'Self-inflicted American shame'

"The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering," Pompeo said in the speech.

The reaction to Pompeo's speech was swift and equally harsh.

"That this administration feels the need, nearly a decade later, to take potshots at an effort to identify common ground between the Arab world and the West speaks not only to the Trump administration's pettiness but also to its lack of a strategic vision for America's role in the region and its abdication of America's values," National Security Action group, a group of former officials, said in a statement.

Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal last year, the administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilizing influence in the region. It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what U.S. officials describe as its "malign activities" throughout the Mideast and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups, and Syrian President Bashar Assad.