Pompeo urges GCC unity to counter common threats

“We all have the same set of threats, the threats from al-Qaeda and from [the Islamic State], the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Sunday 24/03/2019
A US sailor keeps watch from the captain’s bridge onboard the USS John C. Stennis as it makes its way to the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, last December. (Reuters)
Shared concerns. A US sailor keeps watch from the captain’s bridge onboard the USS John C. Stennis as it makes its way to the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, last December. (Reuters)

LONDON - Ending the dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) factored heavily in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent talks with Kuwaiti officials.

“It’s not in the best interest of the region. It’s not in the best interest of the world,” Pompeo said during a visit to Kuwait, which has been trying to mediate a resolution to the crisis since its onset in June 2017.

“We all have the same set of threats, the threats from al-Qaeda and from [the Islamic State], the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said during a news conference March 20 with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah.

Pompeo also met with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, lauding the Kuwaiti ruler’s role in seeking a resolution to the Gulf dispute and stressing that a united GCC would ensure the success of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a US-proposed security and economic bloc likened to NATO.

Kuwait’s foreign minister also stressed the need to find a solution to the GCC crisis. “We believe that these efforts will continue to be exerted because there is no alternative,” Sheikh Sabah said.

Qatar has been isolated since June 2017 when the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, transport and trade ties with the small Gulf Arab state over its alleged support of Islamic terrorist groups and ties to Iran.

MESA is to include all six GCC countries, Jordan and Egypt to counter Iran’s “malicious” activities in the region. The Trump administration has been pushing for the formation and activation of MESA. However, with most of the countries set to take part in the alliance at odds with Qatar, it is unlikely MESA could be established soon.

Recently, tensions between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar escalated over accusations from Doha concerning the UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant. After Qatari officials sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency claiming the plant posed a threat to regional stability and the environment, UAE authorities released a statement denying the allegations and stressed that the “UAE adheres to its commitment to the highest standards of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation as outlined in its nuclear policy in 2008.”

“The UAE does not believe that there is any concern regarding the safety of its nuclear power plant; however, we encourage interested countries to use the right venues where such information on nuclear safety can be provided and questions can be addressed,” the statement added.

However, the GCC spoke in one voice March 22 to express regret over US President Donald Trump’s call to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory captured from Syria in 1967. Trump’s statement “will not change the reality that… the Arab Golan Heights is Syrian land occupied by Israel by military force in 1967,” said GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani. “The statements by the American president undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

Pompeo’s talks with Kuwaiti officials included Syria and the conflict in Yemen.

Following a US Senate vote to end support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, Pompeo stressed that the Trump administration “fundamentally disagrees” on curbing assistance.

“We all want this conflict to end. We all want to improve the dire humanitarian situation but the Trump administration fundamentally disagrees that curbing our assistance to the Saudi-led coalition is the way to achieve these goals,” Pompeo said March 15 in Washington.

The White House has been keen on the continued isolation of Syrian President Bashar Assad but the GCC has been divided over re-establishing ties with Damascus.

A day before Pompeo’s arrival in the region, Kuwaiti authorities arrested Syrian businessman and publisher Mazen al-Tarazi, an Assad supporter, on charges of money laundering and “printing licensed leaflets.” Tarazi is on both a US and EU sanctions list.

A report in Kuwait’s Al-Qabas newspaper said Tarazi was arrested at the headquarters of Al-Hadaf magazine. Security forces also confiscated computers, mobile phones and cameras.

Also arrested were Tarazi’s secretary and four assistants of Lebanese origin. They were charged with “spying for the Hezbollah group.”

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