Pompeo visits Saudi crown prince to discuss Iran

The US Secretary of State also talked about the war in Yemen with the Saudi crown prince, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with them.

al-monitor US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid (L) and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud (C-L) greet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan, as they arrive at Neom Bay Airport in Neom, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by PATRICK SEMANSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images).

Topics covered

gulf cooperation council, nuclear deal, sanctions on iran, benjamin netanyahu, mohammed bin salman, mike pompeo

Nov 23, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday in the kingdom's mega-city, Neom, to discuss Iran, as the Trump administration enters its final weeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined the meeting, a supposedly secret mission that was quickly leaked to the press.

Pompeo and the Saudi leader talked about “the need for Gulf unity to counter Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region,” according to a State Department readout, which did not mention Netanyahu.

US President Donald Trump has made it a priority to deter Iran’s support of its Middle Eastern proxies and alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon. In 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran. Iran denies it is building a nuclear weapon, but the administration plans to continue adding sanctions until it leaves office in January.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have a tense regional rivalry. Saudi Arabia supports the Yemeni government with air support against the Houthi-led armed opposition, backed by Iran, in the Yemeni civil war. Houthis have also attacked Saudi Arabia. The United States aids Saudi Arabia militarily in the war, and Pompeo and Salman further discussed the “need to achieve a political solution to the conflict in Yemen,” according to the State Department. The Trump administration is also considering designating Houthi forces as terrorists at present.

Saudi Arabia's Gulf Cooperation Council allies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalized its relations with Israel in September. Saudi Arabia has so far been reluctant to officially do the same. Israel and Saudi Arabia have grown closer on shared concerns about Iran.

Pompeo and Salman also spoke about human rights and economic reform in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is often under fire internationally for its human rights record, including its treatment of detainees. On the economy, Salman is leading modernization efforts aimed at moving the kingdom away from its dependence on oil.

Pompeo is currently on a tour of several countries in the region. He became the first US secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank last week. Pompeo also met with the world leader of Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, in Istanbul, but controversially did not meet Turkish officials in the country.

Pompeo is due to leave office in January when Joe Biden is sworn in as the next president. 

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