RIYADH: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Sunday for greater unity among the Arabian Gulf states to combat Iran’s malign influence in the region.
Pompeo arrived in Riyadh on Sunday evening on the latest leg of his nine-nation tour of the Middle East.
He was greeted by Adel Al-Jubeir, the minister of state for foreign affairs, Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and US Charge D'Affaires Christopher Henzel. Later, he was expected to have talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Pompeo also said the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors had gone on for too long and was threatening regional unity needed to counter Iran.
"We are all more powerful when we are working together and disputes are limited. When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful," he said at a press conference in Qatar earlier in the day.
Pompeo visited Doha on Sunday and signed several agreements with Qatari officials.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 over Doha’s support for terrorism and its closeness to Tehran.
Pompeo said Gulf unity was essential for a planned Middle East Strategic Alliance that would also include Jordan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have repeatedly said the dispute was not a top priority and assured Washington it would not affect defense cooperation.
“When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful,” he said.
“They never permit you to have as robust a response to common adversaries or common challenges as you might. We’re all more powerful when we’re working together.”
Pompeo said he had discussed the dispute with officials in Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE. “It’s not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday and I regret that,” he said. “We’re hoping that the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead.”
Pompeo said that while in Riyadh he would also be discussing the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist killed at the country’s consulate in Istanbul last October.
Eleven people have appeared in court in Saudi Arabia charged in connection with Khashoggi’s death, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against five of them for his murder.
“We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring the accountability is full and complete,” Pompeo said. “We’ll make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable, certainly by the Saudis but by the United States as well.”
“President Trump made clear immediately in the aftermath of this murder that the relationship is broader and deeper and bigger than that,” Pompeo said.
“We absolutely have expectations when things go wrong, when heinous acts have occurred, people need to be held accountable for this, but this relationship predated that and the relationship must go forward. We have to have a good relation with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this administration intends to do so”.
The US Secretary of State will also be traveling to Warsaw in February to attend a joint US-Poland hosted Iran-focused world summit.