Pompeo pledges no IS return on Middle East tour

AFP , Tuesday 8 Jan 2019

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Photo: Reuters)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed Monday that the Islamic State (IS) militant group would not be allowed to regroup as he headed to the Middle East following President Donald Trump's surprise decision to pull US troops from Syria.

Leaving on a trip to eight Arab capitals, Pompeo told reporters he would show that "the United States is still committed to all the missions that we've signed up for with them over the past two years."

The trip comes weeks after Trump announced that the United States would quickly pull its 2,000 soldiers out of Syria, declaring that the IS, also known as ISIS, had been defeated.

His advisers have since been walking back his timeline, with national security adviser John Bolton saying Monday in Jerusalem that the United States would verify that the group is truly defeated before withdrawing.

Highlighting that IS emerged during the tenure of Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, Pompeo said the campaign to destroy the movement's self-styled caliphate in war-battered Syria has been "enormously successful."

"And I am confident that we will continue to ensure that the kind of rise that ISIS had under the Obama administration doesn't occur again," he said on his plane as he started his longest trip since taking over as top US diplomat last year.

- Coalition against Iran -

Pompeo opens his trip in Jordan and will deliver an address on Middle East policy in Egypt.

Another major focus of the tour will be sustaining a regional coalition to counter Iran, the main enemy of US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

"This is a coalition that understands that the largest threats -- terrorism and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- are things that we ought to work on jointly and we will be marshaling all of the resources, theirs and ours, to achieve them," Pompeo said.

Last year, Trump pulled out of an international accord negotiated under Obama on ending Iran's nuclear program and has instead reimposed biting sanctions.

Pompeo repeatedly has called Iran "the world's largest state sponsor of terror," pointing to its targeting of domestic rivals in Europe and support of militant movements such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

- Promises from Turkey -
The Trump administration has cited Iran as a reason for maintaining a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia, which Pompeo also will visit, despite the killing and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October.

One of the rare US partners to support the US withdrawal from Syria has been Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke to Trump before the US leader's December 19 decision.

Pompeo, in an interview before his departure, said that Erdogan has given assurances to Trump not to attack US-allied Kurdish forces who fought IS in Syria.

"President Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump as the two of them were discussing what this ought to look like -- that the Turks would continue the counter-ISIS campaign after our departure and that the Turks would ensure that the folks that we'd fought with, that had assisted us in the counter-ISIS campaign, would be protected," Pompeo told CNBC television.

Pompeo was elaborating on his remark last week that the United States was working to ensure that "the Turks don't slaughter the Kurds" -- a choice of words that angered Turkey, which said the top US diplomat had a "worrying lack of knowledge."

The US-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units form the backbone of the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, but Erdogan considers them linked to the PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey in the name of the Kurdish minority.

Bolton is set to hold talks Tuesday in Turkey after meetings in Israel, which has privately worried that Trump's withdrawal would empower Iran, which along with Russia offers military backing to President Bashar al-Assad.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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