Pompeo heads to Middle East to strengthen US alliances

During his 8 January to 15 January trip, he will visit Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait

Photo: EPA US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit eight Middle East capitals, starting 8 January, in an effort to fortify crucial alliances in regions strained by the Yemen war, US plans to exit Syria and the murder of the Washington Post journalist journalist Jamal Khashoggi. More specifically. Pompeo will head to Amman, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat, and finally Kuwait City, as the State Department announced few days ago.  During the eight-day trip a stop in Baghdad is also possible, though the information is not confirmed by the State Department.

Pompeo's talks with Middle Eastern leaders comes two weeks after President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced that Washington would pull its troops out of Syria, stunning allies and sparking concerns of a vacuum in the war-torn country that could be filled by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Thus, Pompeo is scheduled to make a keynote address in Cairo, his second stop, where he will outline the trip's overall message that "the US is not leaving the Middle East." Ahead of Pompeo's trip, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton was to depart Friday for talks with Israel and Turkey on how to move ahead, too.

Meanwhile, through the trip Washington also wants its Middle East allies to shoulder more of the burden in maintaining regional security and stability, amid fears of a resurgence of extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State as US forces pull back. For that reason State Department officials claim that Pompeo will nevertheless seek to shore up the alliance of the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The group was weakened in 2017 after Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sought to isolate GCC member Qatar from other countries in the region, over its alleged support for extremist groups. To strengthen the group, the US is hoping a GCC summit can be arranged as early as the first quarter of this year, the official said.

Another key issue for discussion with the Gulf states is the nearly four-year-old war in Yemen, in which a Saudi-led, US-supported coalition supporting Yemen's government has battled with Iran-supported Huthi rebels over control of the country.

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