Pompeo: US seeks to ‘expel every last Iranian boot’ in Syria

Pompeo meets the Egyptian president ahead of his wide ranging speech on US Middle East policy in Cairo. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Pompeo: US seeks to ‘expel every last Iranian boot’ in Syria

  • US secretary of state launches blistering critique of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy
  • Pompeo’s tour is aimed at urging regional allies to continue to confront the “significant threats” posed by Iran and extremists

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed Thursday the United States and its allies would chase all Iranian troops from Syria, and urged Middle East nations to forge a common stand against Tehran.

“It's time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region,” said Pompeo at a keynote address in Cairo.

America “will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria and bolster efforts "to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people," he added.

The top US diplomat was in Egypt on the latest leg of a whistle-stop regional tour aimed at shoring up Washington's Middle East policy following President Donald Trump's shock decision to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria.

Pompeo stressed the pullout would go ahead, despite comments in recent weeks appearing to walk back Trump’s decision, but that the US would remain engaged.

The “decision to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that. We will withdraw our forces, our uniformed forces, from Syria and continue America's crushing campaign,” Pompeo told reporters at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

He also met earlier with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, after arriving in Cairo late Wednesday on his longest trip since taking office last year which has already taken him to Jordan, Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Arbil.

In his address entitled “A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East” at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo also took aim at former president Barack Obama without naming him.

Trump’s predecessor had “grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism,” Pompeo said.

And parroting Obama’s words in his landmark 2009 speech in Cairo, Pompeo vowed that now was really “a new beginning” in ties between the US and the Middle East.

Pompeo’s tour is aimed at urging regional allies to continue to confront the “significant threats” posed by Iran and extremists.

Even though Daesh have been largely eradicated from Iraq, after capturing a vast swathe of territory in 2014, some still control a few pockets in war-torn Syria.

Pompeo will also visit Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

As he arrived in Egypt, the State Department described the country as a “steadfast partner in the anti-terror fight, and a courageous voice in denouncing the radical Islamist ideology that fuels it.”

But there are rising concerns that US policy is getting bogged down. A long-promised Trump plan for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians has so far failed to materialise.

And many of the Trump administration's decisions have stoked confusion and angered many regional allies.

Turkey and the United States are now at loggerheads over the future of Syrian Kurdish forces, considered by Ankara as “terrorists,” after the troop pullout.

Turkish officials had a tense meeting this week with Trump's national security adviser John Bolton in Ankara aimed at coordinating the pullout process after Bolton set conditions that appeared to postpone it indefinitely.

The terms included total defeat of Daesh - still active in some Syrian regions - and ensuring that Kurdish fighters who fought alongside the Americans against the jihadists will be protected.

On Thursday, Turkey renewed its threat to launch an offensive against Kurds.

“If the (pullout) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV television.

 


New envoy stresses need for UN-backed solution to Syria war

Updated 19 min 48 sec ago
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New envoy stresses need for UN-backed solution to Syria war

  • Pedersen is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict
  • Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011

DAMASCUS: The new UN envoy to Syria ended his first visit to the war-torn country Thursday, stressing the need for a UN-brokered political solution to the eight-year conflict.
Geir Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, concluded his three-day visit and headed to the Lebanese capital Beirut, a UN source told AFP.
The new envoy on Twitter late Wednesday said he had a "constructive meeting" with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during his stay in Damascus.
During it, he stressed the need for a "Syrian-led and -owned political solution facilitated by the UN", he added.
Pedersen, who started his new job last week, is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict, after endless rounds of failed UN-brokered peace talks.
In recent years, UN-led efforts have been overshadowed by separate negotiations led by regime allies Russia and Iran, as well as rebel backer Turkey.
After Damascus, Pederson said he was off to meet the Syrian Negotiations Committee, Syria's main opposition group.
But he "agreed to come back to Damascus on a regular basis to discuss commonalities and progress on points of disagreement", he added.
On Tuesday, Muallem expressed Syria's "readiness to cooperate with him... in his mission to facilitate Syrian-Syrian dialogue with the objective of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis", a foreign ministry statement said.
Pederson takes over from Staffan de Mistura, a Swiss-Italian diplomat who stepped down at the end of last year over "personal reasons".
Officials in the government of President Bashar al-Assad had set the tone for the new envoy's tenure shortly after his appointment was announced in October.
"Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad said.
De Mistura ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution.
Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
With key military backing from Russia, Assad's forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and extremists, and now control almost two-thirds of the country.
A drive to bring the Syrian regime back into the Arab fold also seems underway, with the UAE reopening their embassy in Damascus last month.