US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped in Saudi Arabia and Oman as part of a world tour that saw him travel to Munich and then to Africa. He underlined the importance of countering Iran and also dealing with regional security issues, such as the conflict in Yemen.
Pompeo met with US embassy staff and then with soldiers at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. He stressed the importance of the US relationship with Riyadh and the “determination to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian aggression.”
While Pompeo was there, US CENTCOM revealed that the US had intercepted Iranian missiles, drones and cruise missile components in November. The revelation shows that Iran has sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and other weapons. As if to prove its point, Iranian-backed Houthis launched an attack on Saudi Arabia as Pompeo was leaving. Ballistic missiles were fired at Saudi Arabia just after midnight on Thursday.
The top US diplomat met King Salman in Saudi Arabia and discussed the conflict in Yemen. Riyadh intervened in Yemen in 2015 to stop Iranian-backed Houthis from taking over Aden. But the Houthis have turned their wrath on the kingdom in recent years, firing drones and missiles at Saudi cities. The UAE, an ally of Saudi Arabia, has become wary of the Yemen conflict. Riyadh wants to find a way towards a ceasefire.
Pompeo also met Khalid Bin Salman, the deputy defense minister who was previously ambassador to Washington. They discussed the US-Saudi partnership and how they can counter Iran, as well as its role in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Khalid’s brother, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, also carried on important discussions with the Americans. While Pompeo tweeted about “regional security” he also seems to have pushed for “Gulf Cooperation Council unity,” which would appear to mean he hopes that Saudi Arabia will patch things up with Qatar.
The kingdom broke relations with Doha in 2017 and led its allies to do the same. The US needs Qatar to help make its Taliban peace deal work. The Taliban discussed a peace deal with the US, while Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia.
Oman is important for regional security and for discussions with Tehran because it frequently hosts Iranian diplomats. Pompeo met the new sultan and expressed condolences for the passing of Sultan Qaboos. Pompeo stressed to Sultan Haitham bin Tarik al-Said the importance of regional security.
Oman is an important conduit for discussions because it attempts to host the US and Iran, and even hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018.
Pompeo’s trip was important for shoring up the US alliance system in the region, at a time of uncertainty about where Washington is going to be in the next years. Recent Iranian attacks on the US in Iraq and tensions with Iran could boil over.
In addition, a new crisis is brewing in Syria and there are battles in Libya. The US also has a peace deal it wants to promote. Pompeo had a lot on his plate – and as one of the senior survivors of the Trump administration’s frequent turnover, he laid out a consistent approach in Riyadh and Oman.