Secretary of State reinforces alliance with kingdom while discussing Yemen, Khashoggi
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Monday with Saudi Arabia’s leaders, bearing a message of support for a close Trump administration ally at a time when the relationship is under pressure at home and abroad.
Mr. Pompeo met separately with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the royal court in the kingdom’s capital, telling reporters afterward that he raised at least two difficult issues—the war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.
On those issues and on allegations of Saudi human-rights abuses, Mr. Pompeo stressed the friendly nature of ties between Washington and Riyadh.
“The Saudis are friends, and when friends have conversations, you tell them what your expectations are,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo’s stop in Riyadh came near the end of a multination Middle East trip and took place as U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for a re-evaluation of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, including its support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.
But Mr. Pompeo, smiling in brief public appearances with the Saudi leaders and other officials, adhered closely to the administration’s stance regarding Saudi Arabia since the Oct. 2 killing of Mr. Khashoggi. He pressed for accountability, but avoided personally blaming Prince Mohammed, who U.S. intelligence officials have concluded likely gave the order for the killing.
Mr. Pompeo and other officials consistently have emphasized the enduring nature of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and its vital role in countering Iran, a main thrust of Mr. Pompeo’s trip, which has included stops in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
In Saudi Arabia, Mr. Pompeo said he broached the issue of human rights, but didn’t specifically address allegations that a Saudi crackdown on dissent has included acts of torture against jailed women’s-rights activists, including lashings and electric shocks.
On Yemen, the U.S. mission to the kingdom said on Twitter that Mr. Pompeo and the crown prince discussed the conflict and “agreed on need for continued de-escalation and adherence to Sweden agreements, especially cease-fire and redeployment in #Hudaydah,” referring to the Red Sea port city that is the gateway for the vast majority of the country’s food and aid.
The administration has accelerated its efforts to secure a peace agreement in Yemen, for a conflict that has killed tens of thousand of people and caused a humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have been battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who Riyadh sees as proxies of their rival Iran, and they have used U.S.-made bombs and intelligence assistance in their bid to defeat the group.
“We discussed with Pompeo the joint effort in fighting Iran’s expansionist policies that harm regional and international security,” former Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said, according to the Saudi state-owned Ekhbariya news channel.
The officials discussed the crises in Yemen and Syria, the situation in the Red Sea region, and efforts to fight terrorism and extremism, Mr. Jubeir said, according to the channel.
Mr. Pomeo also addressed a pair of Twitter messages sent Sunday by President Trump in which he vowed to devastate Turkey’s economy if it targets Kurdish populations in northern Syria as the U.S. withdraws its forces. Mr. Trump called for a 20-mile safe zone between the Turkish border and U.S.-allied fighters, and also called upon America’s Kurdish allies not to provoke Turkey.
“The president’s aim there, I think, is the one that we’ve been talking about for some time. Which is that we want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to take down the caliphate and ISIS have security, and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey,” Mr. Pompeo said, referring to Islamic State by an acronym.
The exact method of achieving these “twin aims” has yet to be determined, the secretary said. “If we can get a space—call it a buffer zone; others might have a different name for it—if we can get the space and the security arrangements right, this will be a good thing for everyone in the region.”
Mr. Pompeo planned to return to the U.S. earlier than planned to attend a family funeral, the State Department said on Monday. After departing Saudi Arabia, the secretary was traveling to Oman for meetings with leaders there, but planned to forgo a scheduled stop in Kuwait.
The secretary’s swing through the Middle East was aimed at reassuring partners and promoting a new regional alliance. Mr. Pompeo arrived in Riyadh from Doha, where the U.S. and Qatar held their second strategic dialogue.
During his remarks in Doha, the secretary pledged to continue trying to broker an agreement between Qatar and the four states—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt—that have isolated the country over allegations of support for terrorism.
The schism threatens to derail U.S. plans to form a Middle East Strategic Alliance envisioned as a counterpart to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Asked about his hosts’ reaction to his comments in Doha, Mr. Pompeo said the Saudis also hope to heal the rift with Qatar.
“We can certainly provide assistance and support, but at the end of the day those countries have to get it back together,” Mr. Pompeo said.
The Justice Department, which is defending Trump, called the suit politically motivated and said the Democratic attorneys general wanted to conduct a “fishing expedition” in the private files of the president’s business. The department’s lawyers also argued that the District and Maryland lacked standing to sue Trump in the first place because they wouldn’t suffer any specific injury... He called the Trump International Hotel in the District — his own jurisdiction — a “den of iniquity” because, he alleged, it was seen as a place where money could buy influence. .. “You have diplomats from certain Arab countries that are declaring that they are taking their business [to Trump’s hotels] in order to curry favor with the president,” Messitte said. “Do you need a number on that” loss of business to pursue the case further?.. And he repeatedly questioned Shumate on the standing question, asking: If Maryland and the District can’t sue, then who can?
“Does anybody ever have standing, based on your argument?” Messitte said.
.. The plaintiffs also argued that competing hotels in Maryland and the District have been harmed by Trump’s D.C. hotel and that the U.S. General Services Administration, which handles federal real estate, wrongly allowed Trump’s company to continue to lease the Old Post Office building (where the hotel operates), even though a clause in the contract said no elected official could remain on the lease.
President Trump’s impetuousness and his simplistic view of American interests have again put national security at risk. He has taken sides with Saudi Arabia and four other Sunni states in their attempt to isolate and bully Qatar, the tiny gulf nation that is arguably America’s most important military outpost in the region.
.. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen chose to cut ties to Qatar for a number of reasons .. principally because Qatar has a relatively close relationship with the Sunni states’ greatest rival, Shiite Iran.
.. even if his goal is to isolate Iran, allying with Saudi Arabia to punish Qatar is a self-defeating way to go about it: Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command and is a major intelligence hub. It hosts Al Udeid Air Base, with more than 11,000 U.S. and coalition forces.
There is no sign that Mr. Trump has actually thought any of this through.
.. It is true that Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, can be a troublesome partner, but Saudi Arabia’s complaint about Qatar and terrorism is hypocritical. Qatar has long been accused of funneling arms and money to radical groups in Syria, Libya and other Arab countries. But so has Saudi Arabia
.. Qatar has a reason to work with Iran: They share a large natural gas field in the Persian Gulf. At the same time, Qatar is helping a Saudi-led coalition fight the Iranian-linked Houthi rebels in Yemen, and backing insurgents fighting an Iranian ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
.. Even the $110 billion weapons package he signed in Riyadh turned out to be fantasy, a collection of letters of interest or intent, not contracts, all begun during the Obama administration
.. Legislation blocking this deal is working its way through Congress. At a minimum, lawmakers should refuse to resupply the Saudis with precision-guided munitions that are killing civilians in Yemen and implicating America in the process. Even better would be to hold up the package until the Saudis enter into serious negotiations on Yemen and resolve their differences with Qatar.