Pompeo discusses 'regional security' in UAE, defends freedom of navigation in Strait of Hormuz

Pompeo thanked the UAE for its “strong partnership and longtime friendship” with the US.
Wednesday 11/07/2018
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, on July 10. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, on July 10. (AFP)

WASHINGTON – During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed means to "enhance regional security” and took a tough stand against threats by Iranian President Hassan Rohani to close the Strait of Hormuz.

In an interview on July 10 with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, Pompeo reaffirmed US determination to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, which is the only passage from the Arabian Gulf to open waterways.

“The United States has made very clear we’re going to make sure that the sea lanes remain open. It’s been a longstanding US policy, and we’re prepared to make sure that that happens,” he said.

In a July 10 meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Pompeo thanked them for their “strong partnership and longtime friendship” with the US and for the UAE’s “substantial commitments in Syria and Iraq,” according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

The three men “agreed to continue collaborating to enhance regional security” and discussed how to “further strengthen robust bilateral economic and trade ties,” Nauert said in a statement.

Pompeo spent parts of July 9-10 in the UAE as part of a week-long trip that has taken him to North Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Afghanistan. He is now in Belgium with Trump at the NATO Summit.

In an interview July 10 with Sky News Arabia in the United Arab Emirates, Pompeo was asked how the United States would view countries that continue to import oil from Iran after the US reinstates sanctions on November 4.

After noting that such imports would violate US sanctions, Pompeo said: “There will be a handful of countries that come to the United States and ask for relief from that. We’ll consider it.”

Pompeo’s comment is the clearest signal yet that the US might waive sanctions for certain countries and comes two weeks after a State Department official expressed a hard line, saying, “I think the predisposition would be no, we’re not granting waivers.” The official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, also said importers of Iranian oil “should be prepared to go to zero” imports by November 4. 

The official’s comments on June 26 were widely reported and were followed by a spike in oil prices, which the administration of US President Donald Trump is trying to avoid. US gasoline prices hit an average of $2.94 per gallon on July, up from roughly $2.60 per gallon in October, when Trump signaled the US would withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement signed in 2015 by President Barack Obama and leaders of China, Russian, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

At the same time, a delegation of senior US State Department officials spent three days in Saudi Arabia meeting with the country’s ministers of foreign affairs, state, defense and energy “to coordinate stronger pressure on Iran,” according to a senior State Department official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. The leaders “discussed new ways to deprive the [Iranian] regime of revenues to terrorie people and to terrorize other nations,” the official said.

US officials talked with Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih about “maintaining a well-supplied oil market to guard against volatility,” the official said. Trump has been pressuring OPEC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, to increase their oil production and compensate for the expected decline in Iranian oil exports.

On Yemen, where the UAE and Saudi Arabia are leading a coalition fighting Iran-supported Houthi rebels for control of the country, Pompeo said he hopes for a political resolution to the war and spoke in support of United Nations efforts. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to require a global effort to convince the Iranians that this kind of meddling, this kind of interference, this kind of promotion of violence directed at Arab countries outside of Yemen doesn’t make sense for them,” Pompeo told The National.

Pompeo said in the interview that Iran’s support of the Houthi rebels and other “malign activity” such as supporting Hezbollah and Shia militias in Syria and Iraq “all took place against the backdrop of a relief from sanctions” against Iran under the nuclear accord. “Those sanctions are returning.”