In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined Washington’s three main priorities in the Middle East which include countering Iran, destroying ISIS and ensuring regional stability.
Pompeo sat down with Al Arabiya’s Senior Presenter Najwa Kassem during his stopover in Abu Dhabi as part of a regional tour which has thus far taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain. Pompeo’s travels were to continue to Sunday with stops in Qatar and Saudi Arabia and will wrap the tour up on Monday and Tuesday in Oman and Kuwait.
Al Arabiya: Good evening and welcome to our viewers of al-Hadath and al-Arabiya to this exclusive interview with United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is on a tour of the region and kindly consented to talk to us.
It has been a very busy trip and you still have more stops [to cover] but the main thing we can understand from your speech in Cairo, from what you said about the Poland Summit and meeting in Poland it that it’s Iran and this is the main goal. [You delivered] a very tough speech against Iran and some sort of alliance to face the role of Iran in the region. What’s the plan?
Mike Pompeo: So it has been a fantastic trip, this swing through the Gulf states now following my initial visits. Really three things [we are] working on, different for each of our partners around the world. But America’s here and this is important to us; Middle East stability, destroying ISIS, completing the destruction of the “caliphate”, are very important missions for the United States. And countering Iran, the threat from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is something President Trump has identified as one of his top priorities. We are determined to do that, we will do it with our partners in the Middle East. This is a mission for the world. It’s incredibly important and we are determined to do it. I want to make sure that I got a chance to swing through the region one more time. I have been here a lot in my life and I come back one more time and reassure them that America is committed to this and talk about how we’re going to execute it.
Al Arabiya: But what can we understand about what’s going to happen in Poland? Is it the so-called MESA or is it another sort of alliance? What kind of meetings?
Pompeo: That’s a great question. The Ministerial in Warsaw will be much broader than that. We will have countries from Asia, Africa, Western Hemisphere countries from South America; this will be a broad coalition aimed at Middle East stability. We’ll talk about how we counter terror, there will be focus on Iran. There will be conversations about financial systems and how we ensure that financial systems don’t sponsor terror. There will be broad conversations with a large group, dozens and dozens of countries we expect to attend over the course of the ministerial. It’s the first time we have put together a ministerial this way and we think it will show the whole world that there is a broad determination to make life better here and take the terror regimes down in the region.
Al Arabiya: But with America withdrawing from Syria at least for the time being of course, you still have a presence in Iraq but not compared to the presence in the last decade. You are determined for this but you are withdrawing from Syria. This is something you considered not contradictory, and you did not see it contradictory to Mr. Bolton’s statement regarding Turkey at the same issue. But how can we understand this?
Pompeo: No, there’s no contradiction at all. America supports fights against terror all around the world. Sometimes we do it with US soldiers, sometimes we do it with forces from partner countries. Sometimes we do it in other ways, diplomatic means, economic means, financial means, building up coalitions. There are many tools in the power projection arsenal, and so no terrorist, no Iranian should believe that the fact that a couple of thousand US soldiers are going to be redeployed out of Syria, in any way diminishes our commitment.
Al Arabiya: It is said in the US, especially during the term of former president, that our enemies do not fear us and our friends do not trust us. This is something I heard in previous interviews. So in that context, do you think Iran fears what’s going on now?
Pompeo: We want the Iranian people to know that we want a better life for them, and we want the Iranian’s people voices to be heard. We want a real democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. And a real democracy doesn’t support Hezbollah, a real democracy doesn’t support Shiite militias in Iraq. They are reducing Iraqi independence; a real democracy wouldn’t be active in Yemen in the way that they are by underwriting the Houthis today. We want the Iranians people’s voices to be heard, and so we don’t want them to fear us. We want them to know that we are here, we hear them, and we want a better life for the people in Iran as well.
Al Arabiya: In the last answer, you said our forces or other partner’s forces and this is something may be ruling now about may be replacing the American forces but with forces of other countries. This is what the Turks at least are saying in their analysis. Can you explain this? Which partners’ forces?
Pompeo: Yeah, different countries will have to make their own decisions about how they are going to participate in this coalition. Some will make a decision to have their forces, I don’t want to get into where the discussions are sitting today. But know that we value each time a country makes a decision to put its young men and women in harm’s way … that’s a big decision for a sovereign state to make, and we are very hopeful that we will continue to find the right mix, the right set of power projection tools to achieve our ultimate objectives. Look, at the end of the day what we want in Syria is a political resolution. We are driving towards enforcing a UN Security Council resolution, 2254, so we can get a political resolution in Syria, one that allows now some 6 million people who have had to leave their homes …
Al Arabiya: Six millions outside the country, there is another six million displaced within Syria.
Pompeo: And more than that inside that are internally displaced yes. We are talking about enormous numbers, millions and millions of people who have had to flee their homes because of the conflict in Syria. That’s the mission; that’s to create the political conditions for those people can return and they can once again restore power to the people in Syria as well.
Al Arabiya: That is what the Mesa is about?
Pompeo: No, MESA is a broader effort than that. Mesa is not specifically aimed at the Syria challenge.
Al Arabiya: Military aspect?
Pompeo: Even the military aspect of MESA. It is broader than that. It is an attempt to build a coalition of Middle Eastern forces that can respond to many threats to the region. Not just the one that is in Syria today.
Al Arabiya: Speaking about Syria and the American presence there, the American-Turkish relations have been really volatile, very volatile, in the last few months. Now, how can we describe them? We felt they have been okay a couple of months ago. Now, it seems after what happened with Mr. Bolton’s statement, they are more like tense?
Pompeo: I think that’s all been misreported and overblown. The conversations that Ambassador Bolton had in Turkey were very productive. We are trying to chart a path forward, as we withdraw our 2,000 uniformed military personnel from Syria, which we are going to do. As we do that, we want to make sure that we do right by the Turks. That is to the extent they have terrorist threats on their border, they are entitled to do what they need to do to protect their Turkish people. And we want to make sure, at the same time, that the forces that we fought with in the region, who aren’t terrorists - those forces aren’t terrorists - are protected from threats from all folks in the region. We are trying to create an orderly, successful, deliberate departure of our forces. And I am confident that we can do that and the conversations with the Turks, in that respect, have been very productive.
Al Arabiya: Ok, let me ask you Mr. Secretary about the relation with Saudi Arabia. This has been a very important headline in the American press as well as in the American politics. How can you talk about it?
Pompeo: So we are heading to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. We will have another set of constructive conversations I am very, very sure. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an important partner of the United States, they have been very helpful to us on multiple things that matter to the American people and I am convinced that partnership will remain strong.
Al Arabiya: Partnership not friendship?
Pompeo: Call it what you will. They have been great partners in the missions that we have asked them to assist us with. We understand that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a heinous terrible act. We want to hold everyone responsible and accountable, we intend to do so, we have started that already. But this relationship, this mutually beneficial relationship, is to create stability in the Middle East and to assist the United States in executing things that keep the American people safe, is very important. I am convinced the kingdom will be a great ally in doing so.
Al Arabiya: I know the time is over, but just because you mentioned the issue of Khashoggi, I want you to tell the Saudis, the Arab viewers, we felt for sometimes that the whole relation between the US and Saudi Arabia was only this matter, the matter of Khashoggi. How can you respond to this?
Pompeo: President Trump made clear since immediately aftermath of this murder that the relationship is broader and deeper and bigger than that. 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.
Al Arabiya: Thank you so much Mr. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Thank you so much for this interview.SHOW MORE