Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia: End Qatar blockade

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On his first trip as the United States’ top diplomat, Mike Pompeo is imploring Saudi Arabia to end the blockade against Qatar, which has been in place since June 2017. 

US officials told reporters that the US secretary of state would urge Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to resolve the Gulf Crisis in a series of meetings on Saturday and Sunday. 

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt, cut diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar nearly one year ago, accusing the country of supporting “terrorism”. Doha strongly denies the charge.

US President Donald Trump initially appeared supportive of the Saudi-led initiative, while Pompeo’s predecessor, the recently ousted Rex Tillerson, blamed Saudi Arabia and its allies for the stalemate in resolving the crisis. 

Officials said Pompeo called for an end to the blockade because the US believes it has enabled Iran to exploit disunity in the Gulf by enhancing its influence in Yemen and Syria, the Associated Press news agency reported. 

Pompeo arrived in Riyadh on the heels of a missile attack by Houthi rebels that killed one person in Jizan, southern Saudi Arabia, on Saturday. Senior US officials said they blame Iran for smuggling the missiles into Yemen. 

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, US officials told reporters the administration is seeking to counter Iran’s missile programmes as part of a strengthened Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Trump has previously said he will withdraw the US from the JCPOA – which he has called the “worst deal in history” – unless “a better option” is presented to him by May 12, which is when the US president faces a deadline to decide whether or not to renew the agreement’s prescribed sanctions relief for Iran. 

Pompeo was sworn in as the US top diplomat on Thursday and flew to Brussels for a visit to NATO’s headquarters on his full day in the job. On Saturday, he started a brief tour of the Middle East.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, the former CIA director also urged the kingdom to give Yemen access to humanitarian and commercial goods, the New York Times reported. 

Pompeo will depart Saudi Arabia for Israel on Sunday for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will visit Jordan afterwards. 

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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