Before landing in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Feb 19, US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo underscored the importance of the US-Saudi partnership, saying it is critical as the two countries work to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.
Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia is tied to a score of hot topics and coincides with major ongoing events. It comes as Washington continues its efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, cooperates with NATO in combating terrorism, assists Iraqi forces with training and intelligence, and continues to crack down on Iran, especially after the killing of the commander of the “Quds Force” General Qassem Soleimani.
In this short interview with Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, Pompeo, stressed that the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran is not able to buy and sell weapons and to renew the UN Security Council arms embargo and restrictions on arms transfers to Tehran, which expires on October 2020.
Following the US airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, what are the United States’ options to address the threats of the Iranian-backed terrorism from Lebanese Hezbollah to Iraqi Shiite militias to Yemen Houthi militias?
The US action against the Iranian terrorist Qassem Soleimani saved American lives and protected Iraq’s sovereignty. Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of more than 600 Americans and countless Arabs and others in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, and he was actively working to kill more at the very moment we killed him. As the President has made very clear, we will not tolerate attacks that harm Americans.
President Trump proposed expanding NATO’s membership to include Middle Eastern nations? What would be the difference from any other coalitions that the United States called for and formed?
As the White House has reiterated, the President is focused on the value of NATO increasing its role in preventing conflict and preserving peace in the Middle East. While discussions continue, there is broad agreement that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism.
Washington has been focusing on anti-government protests in Iran. How can the United States help the Iranian people who are suffering the most from Tehran’s suppressive regime and the negative effects of the US economic sanctions?
As I have said before, this is my message to the Iranian people, “The United States hears you; the United States supports you; the United States is with you.” This support is more important now than ever before, particularly in the face of this regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors. The focus of our campaign of maximum diplomatic isolation, economic pressure, and military deterrence remains on changing this regime’s behavior. While it is up to the Iranian people to determine the future course of their nation, the United States will continue to stand with them and echo their calls for justice and accountability.
Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in the Middle East; how do you evaluate the strategic cooperation between the two countries, and what more can be done to make full use of this cooperation to reach peace and stability in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon?
We are determined to ensure the safety of the American people and our national security, and that requires reliable partners and stability in the Middle East. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays a vital role in this regard and we will maintain the important strategic partnership between our two nations. For 75 years, Saudi Arabia has been a staunch partner in advancing shared goals in the Middle East, including as a founding member of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, through its contributions to the Syria Stabilization Fund, and its efforts to help stabilize the Iraqi economy and thwart Iranian aggression.
What steps are you currently taking to urge the United Nations Security Council to renew its arms embargo against Iran when it expires next October?
The United States is committed to ensuring that Iran is not able to buy and sell weapons, which only helps the regime continue to destabilize the region, bring about more violence, and prolong conflict and suffering. In August 2019, I spoke to the UN Security Council to stress the importance of renewing the restrictions on Iran. The arms embargo, as well as the travel ban on Iran’s worst agents of terror, cannot be allowed to expire. The Security Council needs to extend these restrictions, so long as Iran’s behavior continues. We have a countdown clock on the State Department’s Iran webpage to show how time is ticking down until Iran is unshackled to create new turmoil. The United States seeks a deal with Iran that comprehensively addresses the regime’s destabilizing behavior (not just its nuclear program but also its missile program), support for terrorist proxies, and malign regional activities. Iran must simply conduct itself like a normal nation. That is not too much to ask.
(Asharq Al-Awsat elusive interview)