US administration pushes for GCC unity in face of Iran

The US State Department said Pompeo stressed the need for regional efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.
Sunday 20/01/2019
Evolving challenges. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said in Muscat. (AP)
Evolving challenges. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said in Muscat. (AP)

LONDON - On a tour to reassure the United States’ Middle East allies of its commitment to the region, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the US administration’s message clearly: Iran must be contained.

Pompeo shuttled between Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman for high-level talks, including with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The US Embassy in Riyadh said Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman covered “many issues, including Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan.” A posting on Pompeo’s Twitter account said meetings with Crown Prince Mohammed focused on the US-Saudi relationship, accountability for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Yemen peace talks.

The US State Department said Pompeo stressed the need for regional efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis and to stand against the “Iranian regime’s malign activity and to advance peace, prosperity and security.”

Pompeo accused the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen of failing to comply with a ceasefire agreement reached at UN-sponsored talks in December.

“The work that was done in Sweden on Yemen was good but both sides (need) to honour those commitments,” Pompeo said. “Today, the Iran-backed Houthis have chosen not to do that.”

Besides Iraq, all regional countries visited by Pompeo are meant to be members of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a military and political alliance designed to tackle regional security issues such as the Islamic State and Iran.

“The Trump administration is also working to establish the Middle East Strategic Alliance to confront the region’s most serious threat and bolster energy and economic cooperation,” Pompeo said during a speech in Cairo.

In an interview with the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel, Pompeo said: “Countering Iran, the threat from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is something [US President Donald Trump] has identified as one of his top priorities.”

“We will do it with our partners in the Middle East. This is a mission for the world. It’s incredibly important and we are determined to do it,” Pompeo added.

Among issues that might hinder getting MESA establishes is that some of its prospective members are on very friendly terms with Iran.

MESA is expected to include all six GCC members along with Jordan and Egypt. However, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June 2017 for Doha’s suspected support of Islamist terrorist groups and its relations with Iran.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi removed Qatar from the coalition fighting the Iran-allied Houthi militia in Yemen but Doha increased its interactions with Iran.

None of the communiques during Pompeo’s tour referenced major breakthroughs regarding GCC reconciliation. Only Qatari media outlets gave the issue significant coverage, emphasising Pompeo’s statements regarding a GCC rapprochement.

“Pompeo: The GCC’s unity is important in the coming days and Qatar is a great friend of the US” was the main headline for pro-government Al Sharq newspaper. Other media outlets did not lead with Pompeo’s GCC statements but carried them in the body of their texts.

It is too early to tell whether Pompeo’s efforts will result in a breakthrough. The US envoy working to resolve the dispute, retired US Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, resigned earlier this month because, he said, “of the unwillingness of the regional leaders to agree to a viable mediation effort that we offered to conduct or assist in implementing.”

However, after Pompeo left the region, Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah travelled to Doha to meet with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to discuss the Gulf crisis.

After that meeting, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al­-Thani issued a statement January 14 that said Doha was ready to reactivate stalled committees in the GCC.

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