Mike Pompeo Cairo speech on the US in the Middle East: as it happened

Top American diplomat in Egypt addressed US involvement in Middle East and Iran’s destabilising role in region

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, gives a speech at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration's Mideast policies as he denounced the former president for misguided and wishful thinking that diminished America's role in the region, harmed its longtime friends and emboldened its main foe: Iran. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Powered by automated translation

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech at the American University of Cairo on the topic of US involvement in the Middle East and Iran’s destabilising role in the region. The follow are highlights, key developments and reactions. All times are UTC+4.


How Mr Pompeo's speech went down with the audience:

Dina Osama, a 22-year old Cairo University politics student, agreed with some of what Mr Pompeo said. “I can see that there is a whole transformation in Pompeo's speech even in the words used … as if he was correcting what Obama said. For example, using nations or nation states rather than Muslims and he mentioned that we are not neglecting the diversity of the Middle East and for me, it is a good point because recognizing the differences between countries and even inside one country could have solved many problems that we are facing today,” she said.


Read more:

Mike Pompeo meets Egypt's Sisi

Analysis: Pompeo seeks to calm Gulf allies rattled by Trump's policy shifts
Tour: All the spots on Pompeo's Middle East trip


However, Ms Osama thought the secretary of state was a little light on policy detail. “His word is too vague and ambiguous and just good words that anyone would want to hear but actually what will happen after [eliminating terrorism or pushing out Iran]?

“Concerning Israel, yes maybe countries relations with Israel are improved but what about Arab people’s feelings? I doubt it that has changed.”

Mr Pompeo’s’ speech wasn’t so well received by some at the American University of Cairo, politics professor Samer Shehata was scathing.

"It's Make America Great Again translated into foreign policy ... we can do no wrong - nor have we done wrong in the past," said Mr Shehata, Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and editor of Islamist Politics in the Middle East. "It's also worthwhile pointing out that the speech is – if this is the right phrase – "tone deaf" with all of the talk of religious freedom and his evangelical background without taking into consideration local perceptions or concerns." She also pointed out that Mr Pompeo's only mention of the Israel-Palestine conflict was fleeting and towards the end – a contrast with previous administrations who have placed peace talks front and centre in middle eastern policy.

Omar El Gammal, a 24-yearold graduate of politics, said the secretary of state had overlooked the US's role in destabilising Iraq after 2003."I think that the American secretary of state is making an assumption that his audience is extremely naive otherwise he wouldn't state with this much boldness that the US is an absolute force for good," he said. "He promises a more interventionist policy in the Middle East but he seems to ignore that the US dismantlement of the Iraqi state is the main reason behind the terrorism we are witnessing in the region.
"I think that the fundamental misunderstandings are Trump's and not Obama's"


The most frequent words Pompeo used in Cairo


18:25 — America in the region

"It’s never easy to recognize truth. But when we see it, we have to speak it.

America has been criticized for doing too much in the Middle East, or for doing too little. But one thing we’ve never been is an empire-builder or oppressor.

Just look at our history together, which I have recounted today.

Look at our fights against our common enemies.

Look at our coalition building.

And finally, just look at this university, which has existed now for 100 years.

It’s not a coincidence that many other American universities like this one thrive across the Middle East, from Beirut to Sulaymaniyah.

They are symbols of America’s innate goodness, of our hopes for you, and of the better future we desire for all the nations of the Middle East.

I want to thank you all for being here today."


18:24 — Make no mistake

"And make no mistake: the United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against the Iranian regime’s aggressive adventurism. We will continue to ensure that Israel has the military capacity to do so decisively.

The Trump Administration will also continue to press for a real and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo giving a speech at The American University in Cairo, Egypt. Jacob Wirtschafter for The National


18:23 — We will work for a lasting peace

"There will be no U.S. reconstruction assistance for areas of Syria held by Assad until Iran and its proxy forces withdraw, and until we see irreversible progress toward a political solution.

In Lebanon, the US will work to reduce the threat of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, which is aimed at Israel, and can reach all points in Israel. Many of these rockets are equipped with advancede guidance systems, courtesy of Iran, and that is unacceptable. Iran may think it owns Lebanon. Iran is wrong.

In Iraq, the US will help our partners build a nation free of Iranian influence. This past May, Iraqis rejected sectarianism in a national election. They refused to be cowed by Iranian-backed thugs and armed groups. Iraqis have strengthened ties with their Arab neighbors, peacefully resumed cooperation between the Kurdish Region and Baghdad, and have renewed their focus on fighting corruption.

In Yemen, we will work for a lasting peace."


18:21— The 12 demands

"The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security, achieve economic stability, or advance the dreams of its peoples if Iran's revolutionary regime persists on its current course.

February 11th will mark 40 years since that oppressive regime came to power.

America’s economic sanctions against the regime are the strongest in history, and will keep getting tougher until Iran starts behaving like a normal country. The 12 demands we stated in May remain in force, because the regime’s threat to the region endures.

In Syria, the U.S. will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people."


18:19 — Israel and the region 

"In October of last year, the Israeli national anthem played as an Israeli judo champion was crowned the winner of a tournament in the UAE.

It was the first time the Israeli delegation was allowed to participate under its own national flag. It was the first time that an Israeli Culture and Sports Minister attended a sports event in the Gulf.

It is a dream come true,” she said.

For two years we had talks in order to reach this moment and it was hard to stop the tears. I want to thank the authorities in Abu Dhabi and our hosts here who received us in an exemplary manner.”


18:18 — New regional ties 

"We’re also building partnerships for future shared prosperity. It’s time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region.

The Trump Administration is also working to establish the Middle East Strategic Alliance to confront the region’s most serious threats, and bolster energy and economic cooperation. This effort is bringing together members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Egypt and Jordan. Today we ask those countries to take the next step in solidifying MESA.

New bonds are taking root that were unimaginable until very recently.

Who could’ve believed a few years ago that an Israeli Prime Minister would visit Muscat?

Or that new ties would emerge between Saudi Arabia and Iraq?

Or that a Roman Catholic Pope would visit this city to meet with Muslim imams and the head of the Coptic faith?"


18:15 — Together to curb the regime’s deadly ambitions

"The work to curb the regime’s deadly ambitions isn’t just confined to the Middle East. America’s friends and partners from South Korea to Poland have joined our effort to stop Iran’s wave of regional destruction and global campaigns of terror.

Countries across the globe have cut Iranian oil imports to zero, and others are working toward that goal. Private companies in France, Germany, Britain and elsewhere have calculated that enriching themselves through work with the regime is bad for business.

In Yemen, we have assisted our Coalition partners as they take the lead in preventing an Iranian expansion that would be disastrous for world trade and regional security."

_________ 18:13 — Let's turn to Iran

"President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises.

The US re-imposed sanctions that should never have been lifted. We embarked on a new pressure campaign to cut off the revenues the regime uses to spread terror and destruction. We joined the Iranian people in calling for freedom and accountability.

And we fostered a common understanding amongst our allies of the need to counteract the Iranian regime’s revolutionary agenda.

The UAE has cancelled imports of Iranian condensate following the re-imposition of US sanctions.

Bahrain has helped expose and counter the Revolutionary Guard proxies active in its country, and stop Iran’s illicit maritime activities.

Saudi Arabia has worked with us to counter Iranian expansion and regional influence.

The United States commends all of these efforts, and we seek for all nations to continue their work to constrain the full array of the regime’s malign activity."


18:12 — When the job is done, America leaves

His only mention of Lebanon was in relation to Hezbollah – Singling out Turkey and Jordan to praise for hosting millions of Syrian refugees is sure to ruffle some feathers in Beirut where politicians are particularly sensitive given that they have been hosting the largest proportion of refugees per capital and experienced a huge impact from the neighbouring conflict.

"We once had tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia. Now that number is a tiny fraction. When we do set up major bases, as we have done in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE, it is at the invitation of the host country.

Our allies and partners have helped greatly in the counter-ISIS effort.

France and Britain joined our strikes on Syria and have supported our anti-terror effort. Jordan and Turkey have hosted millions of Syrians fleeing violence.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have given generously toward stabilization efforts. We thank all of them for their help, and we urge them to continue.

The United States has also helped liberated areas – an important means of preventing the caliphate from re-emerging. We have provided nearly $2.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to Iraq since 2014, and our churches and non-profits do good work too."


18:10 — Iran is not a liberating force

"For those who fret about the use of American power, remember: America has always been a liberating force, not an occupying power, in the Middle East. We’ve never dreamed of domination. Can you say the same of the Iranian regime?

In World War II, American GIs helped free North Africa from a Nazi occupation. Fifty years later we assembled a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Would the Russians or Chinese come to your rescue, in the way that we have?"


18:09 — Trump didn't stand 'idly by' when Assad attacked his people

"As I said in a recent speech in Brussels, our words mean something again – as they should. West Point taught me a code of integrity. If we commit American prestige to an action, our allies depend on us to follow through. The Trump Administration didn’t stand idly by when Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his people. President Trump unleashed the fury of the U.S. military not once, but twice, and with allied support. And he is willing to do it again, although we hope we won’t have to."


18:07 — Pompeo: We neglected our friends but have learnt from our mistakes

"And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.

What did we learn from all this? When America retreats, chaos follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. When we partner with enemies, they advance.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart following their meeting at the ministry of foreign affairs in Cairo on January 10, 2019.  Pompeo also met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi today, on the third leg of a regional tour to address concerns of American allies in the Middle East. / AFP / POOL / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

In just 24 months, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region, because we’ve learned from our mistakes.

We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies. And look at what we have accomplished together."

__________ 18:04 — The failures of past US administrations

"We grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism, a debauched strain of the faith that seeks to upend every other form of worship or governance.

They birthed a caliphate across Syria and Iraq, and launched terror attacks that killed across continents.

Our reluctance to wield our influence kept us silent as the people of Iran rose up against the mullahs in Tehran in the Green Revolution

The Ayatollahs and their henchmen murdered, jailed and intimidated freedom-loving Iranians off the streets. And they wrongly blamed America for this unrest when it was their own tyranny that fueled it."


18:04 — America was absent 

Without naming President Trump’s predecessor directly, Mr Pompeo’s speech is a clear rebuttal to Barrack Obama’s 2009 policy announcement of a more considered, hands-off approach to the region. Mr Pompeo squarely lays the blame on Mr Obama's administration for what he calls a hesitation to act or a coddling of enemies at major junctures of recent history – the Arab uprisings of 2011, the Syrian war and the 2015 Iran deal on nuclear enrichment.

"Egypt has always been a land of striving. And yet your aspirations, and those of your brethren in the Middle East, have seemed impossible to achieve in recent times. These lands witnessed convulsions from Tunis to Tehran as old systems crumbled and new ones struggled to emerge. Here, too.

And at this critical moment, America, your long-time friend, was absent. Why? Because our leaders gravely misread our history, and your historical moment. These fundamental misunderstandings, set forth in this city in 2009, adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Egypt and across the region."


18:03 — America is a force for good 

"It is a truth that isn’t often spoken in this part of the world, but I’m a military man by training, so I’ll put it bluntly: America is a force for good in the Middle East. Period.

We need to acknowledge that truth, because if we don't, we make bad choices – now and in the future. And our choices have consequences for nations, and for millions and millions of people. For our safety. For our economic prosperity. For our personal freedoms. For our children's futures."

17:20 — Pompeo to speak at American University of Cairo

As per an advanced copy of Mr Pompeo's speech seen by The National the US Secretary of State is expected to touch on a series of topics, including the role of past US administrations, America's force for good, Iranian meddling in the region, US support of coalition forces in Yemen and American troop presence in Syria. Mr Pompeo is also expected to talk about ISIS and American efforts to destroy the group.

The hall where Mr Pompeo is scheduled to speak has a capacity of only 225, compared to the 3,000-plus audience former president Barack Obama had when he spoke at the university. 
He is currently on a nine-country tour of the Middle East.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Pompeo held talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi in Cairo. He meet his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and was scheduled to talk to the head of the country's General Intelligence Service Abbas Kamel.

This is the US diplomat's longest tour since taking office last year. After Cairo, Mr Pompeo is stopping off at all six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

His Middle East tour aims to urge allies to continue to confront the "significant threats" posed by Iran and ISIS despite President Donald Trump's shock decision last month to pull all US troops from Syria.

Read more:
Analysis: Pompeo seeks to calm Gulf allies rattled by Trump's policy shifts
Tour: All the spots on Pompeo's Middle East trip
Pompeo in Iraq: US diplomat meets Baghdad leaders and assures Kurdish allies
Pompeo in Jordan: Syria withdrawal won't complicate US anti-Iran campaign
Podcast: Pompeo's timely tour