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Pompeo visits the region
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 05 - 2018

New US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hardly waited to be sworn into office last week before kicking off his first round of visits abroad with his official title. First, he stops in Brussels, and then he will head to the Middle East for visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.
There have been rising tensions in the region between Iran and Israel, especially in recent days because of US President Donald Trump's announcement that he may make a final decision on the Iran nuclear deal with the West on 12 May.
Pompeo in talks with Saudi Monarch Bin Salman and his Foreign Minister Al-Jubair; ending his tour in Amman meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan
On Sunday, Pompeo gave a warm boost of support to Israel in its standoff against Iran, saying “the United States is with Israel in this fight.” Pompeo has been using the Middle East leg of his first trip abroad as America's top diplomat to call for concerted international action to punish Iran for its missile programmes.
There has been much diplomatic activity from the European countries who are partners to the agreement in order to try to convince Trump to stay committed to it while addressing other issues and concerns.
The agreement is important for the Europeans not only for the commitments given to the Iranians, but also because of fears of another regional confrontation, possibly between Iran and Israel and dragging in the US.
Two weeks before the new US secretary of state was appointed, Israel carried out strikes on the T4 airbase in Syria, which it said hosted Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and in which seven Iranians were apparently killed.
Iran vowed retaliation but did nothing. While Pompeo was visiting Israel on 29 April, heavy missile attacks against bases in Hama and Aleppo in Syria used by Iranian forces were reported.
According to the NGO Syria Human Rights Watch, 18 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard were killed in the Israeli attacks. The strikes were meant as a signal from Israel that it will no longer tolerate an Iranian presence near its border and that it will carry out as many attacks against Iranian interests in Syria as it thinks necessary.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted to the attacks by threatening retaliation, but Iranian officials have not confirmed if any Iranians were killed, perhaps wary of Trump's impending decision on the nuclear deal.
It seems that even if the Israeli attacks intensify on Iran's bases in Syria, Iran will not react. The nuclear deal is very important for Tehran, and it does not want to jeopardise its status when Trump makes the decision on May 12 by confronting Israel.
Israel may have an interest in encouraging the Americans to exit from the Iran deal, but it looks as if the international community and the region would prefer that a peaceful solution be found to address Iran's missile threats and hostile behaviour against its neighbours.
Pompeo has not indicated what would happen if the Iran nuclear deal were to be cancelled by the US or what peace agenda he has for resolving the conflict in Syria or for the rising tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Pompeo did not meet Palestinian officials when visiting Israel, and the US is preparing to move its embassy this month from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which will likely increase the tensions in the West Bank and Gaza.
Pompeo ended his tour with a visit to Amman where he met with King Abdullah of Jordan before heading back to the US and leaving the Middle East to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's increasingly theatrical antics.
Pompeo in talks with Saudi Monarch Bin Salman and his Foreign Minister Al-Jubair; ending his tour in Amman meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan
Netanyahu has produced documents that he says are proof of Iranian plans to make a nuclear bomb before reaching the nuclear accord. The documents may have been produced in a bid to influence Trump's decision on the nuclear deal just days before the deadline, but Netanyahu did not provide any proof that Iran is violating the agreement.
The documents suggest that Iran lied about its efforts to build a nuclear weapon, and Netanyahu is hoping that the disclosures will bolster Trump's resolve to scuttle the agreement.
According to US intelligence assessments during the George W Bush presidency, Iran started its secret nuclear bomb-making programme in 2003 and halted it in 2006. The new documents, if proved to be original, complement the CIA report published in 2007 and could increase the pressure on Iran to agree to a longer time limitation on its nuclear programme and more rigorous inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In response to the allegations made by Netanyahu, Federica Mogherini, representative of the European Union for foreign affairs, said that the “IAEA is the only impartial international organisation in charge of monitoring Iran's nuclear commitments. If any country has information of non-compliance of any kind, it should address this information to the proper legitimate and recognised mechanisms.”
The message is that the EU wants to pursue diplomatic talks with Tehran rather than close off channels for the negotiations.
While there is a gap between US policy and European policy on the Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo has not said what alternatives the US may have to it and how the US wants to address Iran's interference in the region.


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