Strength in numbers: Pompeo, Bolton and Hook straddle MidEast

On Sunday Bolton was in Jerusalem meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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June 24, 2019 16:47
2 minute read.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo talks with national security adviser Bolton prior to a Abe-Trump join

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo talks with national security adviser Bolton prior to a Abe-Trump joint news conference at the White House in Washington. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

 
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Saudi Arabia on Monday to press for a global coalition against Iran.

His trip comes several days after the US abruptly called off air strikes against Iran, in retaliation for the downing of an American drone. US National Security Advisor John Bolton was also in Israel over the weekend and Iran envoy Brian Hook was in Kuwait. Together the three represent America’s political clout being extended to straddle the Middle East ahead of a conference in Bahrain that will focus on Palestinians.

Pompeo and Bolton came to the Trump administration at the same time, in the spring of 2018, after Trump’s first foreign policy team left or was pushed out.

Together they form the Iran squad at the State Department and in advising the President. Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran went to Kuwait city on June 23 to discuss maritime security.

This is important after the US accused Iran of sabotaging and attacking six oil tankers between May and June. Hook also discussed increasing US sanctions on Iran. “This is the price that the regime is paying for acting like an outlaw.” He says that Iran threatens global shipping and that therefore many countries should sign on to support the US in its efforts.

On Sunday, Bolton was in Jerusalem meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bolton’s message was that Iran should not mistake prudence for weakness and that Iran does not have a license to do what it wants in the region.

Israel recently completed a large military drill to face threats from the north and has shown support US condemnations of Iran. Jerusalem is concerned about Iran transferring weapons to Hezbollah and entrenching in neighboring Syria.

Pompeo’s meetings are even more substantive. Pompeo says Washington is anchoring its alliance in the region in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These are the two “great allies” that are being challenged by Iran.

But he wants more allies as well, including European nations and other Gulf states and Asian countries. Bolton says, they “understand this challenge and [are] prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

The trifecta of effort to work with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia illustrates America’s uphill battle in confronting Iran.

This is the southern flank alliance that the US has developed in the last year, as Iran has carved out a corridor of influence across the center of the Middle East – including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In addition the US has challenges in Turkey where Ankara is seeking to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system.

This angers Washington and has strained relations. Turkey is a close ally of Qatar and Qatar is at odds with Saudi Arabia. In addition Turkey and Qatar have held meetings with Iran recently in Central Asia, indicating they are not closely aligned to the US policy.

Pompeo, Bolton and Hook hope they can surmount this challenge through their trip. It comes before the important Bahrain conference with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other allies – such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco – where it will discuss supporting the Palestinians.

Once again the same Washington-aligned countries will sit around a table. This is important and symbolic for the Trump administration. It shows a continuing commitment to the region and a desire to press forward with maximum pressure on Iran.

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