Pompeo on Middle East tour to counter Iran, boost Netanyahu
US Sec. of State tells says Middle East trip aims to combat Iranian threat, strengthen dialogue with regional leaders.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought Wednesday to bolster a united front against Iran during a Middle East tour that will include talks with key ally Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections.
Pompeo kicked off his regional tour in Kuwait, where he met Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Israel and Lebanon.
Pompeo told reporters on the flight from the United States that he would discuss “strategic dialogue” and the need to combat “the threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran” with leaders in the region.
He will also push for a greater role for the Middle East Strategic Alliance, a US-sponsored Arab NATO aimed at uniting Washington’s Arab allies against Tehran.
After Kuwait Pompeo will fly to Israel where an election campaign is in its final weeks with Netanyahu locked in a close battle with centrist rivals.
While Washington insists it is not interfering in Israeli politics, his visit is seen as a sign of support for Netanyahu, who is struggling to keep his grip on power as he faces allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust ahead of the April 9 polls.
“I’m going to Israel because of the important relationship we have,” Pompeo said. “Leaders will change in both countries over time. That relationship matters no matter who the leaders are.”
Israel is one of the most outspoken members of the anti-Iranian grouping assembled by the US, and Iran is sure to be a central focus of Pompeo’s talks in Jerusalem.
No meetings with Netanyahu’s opponents are scheduled, and the secretary of state will not meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
“They’d have to want to talk to us,” Pompeo said of the Palestinian officials. “That’d be a good start.”
Pompeo’s two-day visit to Jerusalem also includes a symbolic stop at the new US embassy, which was transferred from Tel Aviv on Trump’s orders last year.
Netanyahu will travel to Washington in the last week of March for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an event sponsored by the influential lobbying group that draws thousands each year.
While a meeting has not been officially confirmed, the Israeli premier hopes to use the opportunity of his Washington visit to meet with Trump.