Pompeo in Bahrain on first leg of tour of Gulf allies

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after arriving at Manama International Airport in Manama, Bahrain, Jan. 11, 2019. (Reuters)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan arrive in Manama International Airport in Manama on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, and his wife Susan, third right, pose for pictures with Assistant Foreign Minister for North and South American Affairs , Reda Habeeb Ibrahim Zaki, right, and Charge d'Affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, Tom Goldberger, left, before boarding the plane leaving Egypt as he departs for Manama, Bahrain at Cairo International Airport in Cairo, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (AP)
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Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, left, watches as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leaves at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 January 2019

Pompeo in Bahrain on first leg of tour of Gulf allies

  • In Bahrain, Pompeo is due to have a working lunch with King Hamad
  • Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet

MANAMA: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Bahrain on Friday, the first leg of a tour of Gulf monarchies which Washington says are “critical” to confronting Iran and militants.
“These Gulf partnerships are critical to achieving shared regional objectives — defeating Daesh, countering radical Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy supplies and rolling back Iranian aggression,” a State Department spokesman said.
In Bahrain, Pompeo is due to have a working lunch with King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman and Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, according to his official program.
Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet with around 7,800 US military personnel deployed in the country, as well as a British naval base.
It is one of the closest allies of regional power house Saudi Arabia and shares its hostility Iran.
“Bahrain is a staunch supporter of countering Iran’s malign efforts” in the region, the US spokesman said.
“Bahrain continues efforts to investigate and counter Iranian sanctions evasion and combat illicit maritime activity,” he added.
Pompeo’s visit is part of a whistlestop regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria.
The US top diplomat flew in to Manama from Cairo and has already visited Amman, Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.
He will also visit the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
State Department officials have said Pompeo hopes his trip will strengthen the GCC.
The State Department has said that a “united Gulf Cooperation Council the backbone for regional peace, prosperity, security and stability” and key to countering Iran.
It said Pompeo would also work with regional leaders to advance a proposed Middle East Strategic Alliance — a NATO-style security pact.


UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

A Palestinian refugee holds a placard at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the town of Sebline east of the southern Lebanese port of Saida, on March 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

  • UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses

BRUSSELS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.
UNRWA’s director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: “We’re waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications.”
She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered “around the end of October” to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal “follow-up steps.”
The timing is crucial as the agency’s three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.
UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.
Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.
That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programs it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
According to a copy of an internal UN report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

FASTFACT

The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.

Lewis did not confirm those allegations, noting only “rumors” and leaks to the media.
“None of us have actually seen it,” she said of the report, adding: “Our sense is that it’s not about financial misappropriation or corruption, it’s linked to management and human resources issues.”
She did note that the agency’s deputy chief, Sandra Mitchell, had been replaced in August by an acting deputy commissioner-general tasked with strengthening human resources and financial oversight.
Lewis said she was in Brussels for two days of meetings with European Commission officials to shore up UNRWA’s mandate renewal and, importantly, to maintain funding.
Despite program cutbacks, the agency faces an $89 million shortfall for the rest of this year, she said, and “financial uncertainty” beyond that.
UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses. Making up for the pulled US funding was a “challenge,” she said.