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 jihadists.
“These Gulf partnerships are critical to achieving shared regional objectives — defeating ISIS (militant Islamic State group), countering radical Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy supplies and rolling back Iranian aggression,” a US State Department spokesman said.
In Bahrain, Pompeo had a working lunch with King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman and Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, according to his official programme.
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 of 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 Arbil.
He will also visit the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
State Department officials have said Pompeo hopes his trip will strengthen the GCC, which has been weakened by a diplomatic rift that has pitted Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar for more than 18 months.
They accuse Doha of supporting groups blacklisted as “terrorist” by the GCC and of advocating improved ties with Iran. Doha, which is home to a huge US air base, has denied the claims.
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.
During his talks in the Gulf, Pompeo is also expected to discuss the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-linked rebels since March 2015 despite a growing international outcry over the human cost.