U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second left, meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi in Cairo Image Credit: AP

Cairo: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Thursday for an end to Middle East rivalries to roll back Tehran's influence and vowed to "expel every last Iranian boot" from Syria.

"It's time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region," Pompeo said in a speech in Cairo during a Middle East tour to reassure allies about US plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

The US "will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot" from Syria and will bolster efforts "to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people", he said.

The top US diplomat was in Egypt on the latest leg of a whistle-stop regional tour aimed at shoring up Washington's Middle East policy following President Donald Trump's shock decision to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria.

Pompeo stressed the pullout would go ahead, despite comments in recent weeks appearing to walk back Trump's decision, but that the US would remain engaged.

The "decision to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that. We will withdraw our forces, our uniformed forces, from Syria and continue America's crushing campaign," Pompeo told reporters at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart,Sameh Shukry.

He also met earlier with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi, after arriving in Cairo late Wednesday on his longest trip since taking office last year which has already taken him to Jordan, Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, Arbil.

 'New beginning' 

In his address entitled "A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East" at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo also took aim at former president Barack Obama without naming him.

Trump's predecessor had "grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism," Pompeo said.

And parroting Obama's words in his landmark 2009 speech in Cairo, Pompeo vowed that now was really "a new beginning" in ties between the US and the Middle East.

Pompeo's tour is aimed at urging regional allies to continue to confront the "significant threats" posed by Iran and jihadists.

Even though Daesh have been largely eradicated from Iraq, after capturing a vast swathe of territory in 2014, some still control a few pockets in war-torn Syria.

Pompeo will also visit Gulf countries including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

As he arrived in Egypt, the State Department described the country as a "steadfast partner in the anti-terror fight, and a courageous voice in denouncing the radical Islamist ideology that fuels it".

But there are rising concerns that US policy is getting bogged down. A long-promised Trump plan for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians has so far failed to materialise.

And many of the Trump administration's decisions have stoked confusion and angered many regional allies.

'Middle East even messier' 

"By most accounts, Trump's Middle East policy has made a messy Middle East even messier," Aaron David Miller, a former US diplomat and now an analyst at the Wilson Center, said on Twitter.

"A risk averse president who makes new policy by tweet or phone call surrounded by risk-ready advisers who run cleanup, don't respect deliberation and have objectives that aren't clear or attainable equals US policy (or lack of it) in Syria."

Turkey and the United States are now at loggerheads over the future of Syrian Kurdish forces, considered by Ankara as "terrorists", after the troop pullout.

Turkish officials had a tense meeting this week with Trump's national security adviser John Bolton in Ankara aimed at coordinating the pullout process after Bolton set conditions that appeared to postpone it indefinitely.

The terms included total defeat of Daesh - still active in some Syrian regions - and ensuring that Kurdish fighters who fought alongside the Americans against the jihadists will be protected.

On Thursday, Turkey renewed its threat to launch an offensive against Kurds.

"If the (pullout) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV television.


Cairo - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Egyptian leaders in Cairo on Thursday as he continued a nine-nation Mideast tour aimed at reassuring that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region and is continuing to step up pressure on Iran.

Amid confusion and concern over plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Pompeo met with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss security and economic cooperation. Later he delivered a speech on the administration's broader Mideast objectives focused on combatting threats from Iran.

Pompeo arrived in Egypt after stops in Jordan and Iraq where he sought to assure leaders that withdrawing from Syria doesn’t mean the U.S. is abandoning the fight against Daesh or easing pressure on Iran. From Egypt, Pompeo will travel to the Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait to press the case.

Pompeo said on Twitter that his meeting with Al Sissi had been "productive." Adding that "the U.S. stands firmly with Egypt in its commitments to protecting religious freedom and in the fight against terrorism that threatens all of our friends in the Middle East."

President Donald Trump has boasted of his close relationship with Al Sissi. The Trump administration has resumed weapons sales to Egypt that has been suspended over human rights concerns, including the jailing of several American citizens on what U.S. officials say are false charges.

At a brief news conference with Shoukry, Pompeo said "the United States will remain a steadfast partner in the region for Egypt and others" while also also urging the countries of the region to recognize and fight back against Iranian aggression. He termed Iran "greatest threat of all in the Middle East."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked that a full US troop withdrawal from Syria announced by President Donald Trump last month will go ahead despite widespread criticism.

"President Trump's decision to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that," Pompeo told press conference.

Shortly before Pompeo got to Cairo, the State Department put out a fact sheet detailing close U.S. cooperation with Egypt that noted some improvements in the country's human rights record. It said Washington welcomed the recent acquittal of employees of American civil society groups who had been "wrongly convicted of improperly operating in Egypt" and said the U.S. supports Al Sissi's pledges "to amend Egyptian law to prevent future miscarriages of justice."

The statement went on to laud Egypt for its "vital role" in regional security and stability and lauded Al Sissi for being "a stead fast partner in the anti-terror fight and a courageous voice in denouncing the radical Islamist ideology that fuels it."

In his speech at the American University of Cairo entitled "A Force for Good: America's Reinvigorated Role in the Middle East," Pompeo was to extol the Trump administration's actions in the region, including taking on the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and imposing tough new sanctions on Iran.

"In just 24 months, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region, because we've learned from our mistakes," he was to say, according to excerpts released by the State Department. "We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies."

Since withdrawing from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran 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.

"The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security, achieve economic stability, or advance the dreams of its peoples if Iran's revolutionary regime persists on its current course," Pompeo was to say in his speech, according to the excerpts.

Pompeo arrived in Egypt after stops in Jordan and Iraq where he sought to assure leaders that withdrawing from Syria doesn't mean the U.S. is abandoning the fight against Daesh or easing pressure on Iran. From Egypt, Pompeo will travel to the Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait to press the case.