US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has embarked on a tour of the Middle East in a bid to muster support for President Donald Trump’s proposal to form an Arab military force to replace American troops in Syria.
Pompeo met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Saturday, though the content of their discussions was not released.
The US secretary of state was expected to meet Saudi King Salman on Sunday and then fly on to the occupied territories to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will also travel to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.
The trip comes as the Trump administration is reviewing US involvement in the Syria conflict after repeatedly complaining about the cost and duration of the military intervention in the Middle East.
Last December, he lamented Washington’s waste of money in the Middle East wars, tweeting, “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!”
Earlier this month, Trump called on Washington’s allies, “including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, and others” to form an Arab force to replace the US military in Syria.
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home,” he said.
Pompeo’s Middle East tour also comes amid a Saudi-led campaign to hold Qatar’s feet to the fire over Doha’s refusal to submit to the kingdom’s steep demands.
On Saturday, the New York Times wrote, “As Saudi Arabia considers digging a moat along its border with Qatar and dumping nuclear waste nearby, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Riyadh on his first overseas trip as the nation’s top diplomat with a simple message: Enough is enough.”
Last June, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led an embargo by four Arab nations of Qatar, accusing the tiny, gas-rich nation of funding terrorism, cozying up to Iran and welcoming dissidents. According to the NY Times, years of perceived slights on both sides of the conflict added to the bitterness.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Qatar must pay for the US military presence in Syria if it wants to sustain Washington’s support.
“Qatar has to pay for US military presence in Syria and send its military forces there, before the US president cancels US protection of Qatar,” Jubeir said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.
Another important issue on Pompeo’s agenda is Riyadh’s bid to normalize ties with Israel.