Wed | Jun 23, 2021

Pompeo in Mideast talks on building a coalition against Iran

Published:Tuesday | June 25, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left), meets with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at Al-Salam Palace in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia yesterday.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks on Monday with the Saudi king and crown prince about countering the military threat from Iran by building a broad, global coalition that includes Asian and European countries.

Pompeo is likely to face a tough sell in Europe and Asia, particularly from those nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that President Donald Trump repudiated last year.

With tensions running high in the region after Iran shot down a US surveillance drone on June 20 and Trump saying that he aborted a retaliatory strike, Iran’s naval commander warned that his forces won’t hesitate to down more US drones that violate its airspace. The US has been building up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.

The US announced additional sanctions on Monday on Iran aimed at pressuring the Iranian leadership into talks. The sanctions, reimposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, have crippled the Iranian economy and pushed up the cost of living. Iran has decried US sanctions, which, essentially, bar it from selling its oil internationally, as “economic terrorism”.

Pompeo, considered a hard-liner in Washington, referred to Iran as “the world’s largest state sponsor of terror” before he embarked on the hastily arranged Middle East stops on his way to India, Japan, and South Korea.

He said he would be speaking with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition ... not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe” that is prepared to push back against Iran.

But Germany, France, and Britain, as well as Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear accord that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for set limits on its uranium-enrichment levels. Trump pulled the US out of the deal last year.

Germany, Britain, and France have sent envoys to Tehran recently, signalling that they remain committed to diplomacy and dialogue. They cautioned against moves that can lead to conflict between the US and Iran.

Berlin appears cool towards US talk of a global coalition against Iran as it tries to salvage the nuclear deal. German media have drawn parallels between Pompeo’s talk of a coalition and President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” against Iraq in 2003, which Germany and France opposed.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said his country had “taken note via the media” of Pompeo’s comments and that Germany’s “top aim is and remains a de-escalation of the serious situation”.

On Monday, Trump tweeted that China and Japan depend on the security of the Persian Gulf waterways for the bulk of their oil imports, and he asked why the US is protecting the shipping lanes for other countries “for zero compensation”.

“All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey.” He said that the US doesn’t “even need to be there” because it produces much of its own energy needs.

Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran, said one option could be to “enhance” an existing multinational maritime force of about 30 countries that currently fights drug and arms smuggling in the region.

Alternatively, he said that allied nations with commercial interests in the oil-rich region could launch an all-new maritime security initiative.

Another option could be military ships patrolling the Gulf waters and equipped with surveillance equipment to keep watch on Iran.

The narrow Strait of Hormuz, which lies between Iran and Oman and opens to the Persian Gulf, is paramount for Asian oil importers. An estimated 18 million to 20 million barrels of oil – much of it crude – pass through the strait every day.