Pompeo says US offered to help Iran with coronavirus response

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, about the Trump administration’s policies on Iran, Iraq and the use of force. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2020

Pompeo says US offered to help Iran with coronavirus response

  • The hearing meant to focus on Trump administration's dealings with Iran and Iraq, but centered on the coronavirus
  • Washington is watching to see if Iran may seek to play a spoiler role in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States has offered to help with the coronavirus response in Iran, where the outbreak has killed 34 people, and raised doubts about Tehran’s willingness to share information.
“We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help,” Pompeo said in a hearing at House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Their health care infrastructure is not robust and to date, their willingness to share information about what’s really going on inside...Iran has not been robust and I am very concerned that....it is Iran that is not sharing information.”
The new coronavirus which emerged in Wuhan, China, in December has infected tens of thousands of people.
The Islamic Republic is the only country in the Gulf region that has reported deaths from the coronavirus, which has spread from China. 
Pompeo also warned Iran not to scuttle an upcoming agreement with the Taliban, accusing the US adversary of seeking to be a “spoiler.”
Pompeo confirmed that a one-week partial truce was holding with the Taliban, who are scheduled to sign the landmark accord with the United States on Saturday.
“There is a history of Iran engaging in activity inside of Afghanistan to act as a spoiler,” Pompeo told the committee.
“We’ve seen just these last six days a significant reduction in violence in Afghanistan and we are watching closely to see if the Islamic Republic of Iran begins to take even more active measure that undermine our efforts at peace and reconciliation,” he said.
He warned that Iran could increase risks for US troops, whose numbers are expected to be sharply scaled down under the Doha agreement.
Iran’s Shiite clerical regime has been historically opposed to the Taliban, which practices an austere form of Sunni Islam, and quietly backed the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.
Iran was part of a coalition that backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and in 1998 amassed troops near the Afghan border after a Taliban assault on Iran’s consulate in Herat.
But Iran has increasingly been involved in proxy conflicts with the United States elsewhere, notably in Iraq.
Iran has been mostly cautious in its recent comments on Afghanistan.
But Foreign Minister Javad Zarif last year criticized the US talks with the Taliban, saying they only boosted the extremists and alienated the internationally backed government.
(With Reuters and AFP)


US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

People, some wearing face masks, pray outside the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul on July 10, 2020 as they gather to celebrate after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2020

US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site

WASHINGTON: The US said it was “disappointed” by Turkey’s decision to turn the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and urged equal access for all visitors.
“We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all,” she said on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Erdogan’s announcement came after the cancellation of a decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.

Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokeswoman

Erdogan went ahead despite an open appeal to the NATO ally by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who frequently speaks about religious freedom.
In a statement last week, Pompeo called the museum status an “exemplar” of Turkey’s “commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history” of the country and said a change risked “diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also said on Friday he deeply regretted Turkey’s decision.
Biden called on Erdogan to reverse it “and instead keep this treasured place in its current status as a museum, ensuring equal access for all.”