Mike Pompeo denies US stance on Golan violates UN resolutions

President Trump's decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty reflects 'reality on the ground', secretary of state says

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President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Golan Heights is not a violation of UN resolutions but rather a recognition of "the reality on the ground", Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Mr Trump billed his decision, announced in a tweet on Thursday, as being "of critical strategic and security importance" to Israel and for regional stability, a claim Mr Pompeo backed in an interview with Sky News Arabia on Saturday.

Speaking after a tour of the region that included stops in Kuwait, Israel and Lebanon, Mr Pompeo said the US was acting out of noble intentions.

"America is a force for good in the region. Our intentions are noble," he said. "We want good outcomes for the people of Lebanon, for the people of Kuwait, for the people of Israel, for all nations in the Middle East, and the decision the president made will increase the opportunity for there to be stability throughout the region."

Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be a dramatic shift in US policy on the status of a disputed area that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981, in a move not recognised by the international community.

Syria has asked the UN Security Council to uphold past resolutions demanding that Israel withdraw from the Golan. The issue is scheduled for discussion by the council on Wednesday, during a meeting on renewing the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force deployed between Israel and Syria in the Golan.

Mr Pompeo dismissed the suggestion that Mr Trump's decision amounted to double standards, given that the US is imposing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.

"Not at all," he said. "What the president did with the Golan Heights is recognise the reality on the ground and the security situation necessary for the protection of the Israeli state. It’s that simple."

Touching on the declaration of victory over ISIS by US-backed Syrian forces on Saturday after the recapture of its last patch of territory, Mr Pompeo said: "The threat’s not gone. The work continues. And America’s mission remains unchanged: we are determined to keep America safe from the threat from radical Islamic terrorism."

He said American troop deployments and tactics in the region would vary according to "conditions on the ground and the conditions in the region".

"We have lots of efforts ongoing all across the Middle East to ensure that those countries too have an opportunity to defeat terrorism in their own country as well. We have great partners in the region that we work well alongside and we’ve done good work together."

Mr Pompeo said his trip to Lebanon on Friday, his first as secretary of state, was to offer its leaders US support to counter Iran and its attempts to exert influence in the country, as well as the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

"They want to control this state; they want access to the Mediterranean; they want power and influence here. And the people of Lebanon deserve better than that," he said.

Asked whether countering Iran was part of the US mission in Syria, he said: "Everywhere we find malign activity by Iran, the United States is going to pursue it, whether that’s in South America, whether that’s in the Middle East."

Israeli soldiers prepare at the Quneitra border crossing of the Israeli annexed-Golan Heights, on March 23, 2019, as demonstrations are expected on the Syrian side of the border to protest against the backing of Israel's capture of the Golan Heights by the US president. US President Donald Trump is again breaking diplomatic norms in backing Israel's capture of the Golan Heights. Israel conquered the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and annexed it in 1981, but until now, the international community has not accepted the move, hoping the territory could serve as a bargaining chip in a future peace deal between the countries. But Trump on March 21 turned to Twitter for the abrupt diplomatic turnaround, saying that after 52 years, "it is time for the United States to fully recognize" Israeli sovereignty. / AFP / Jack GUEZ
Israeli soldiers prepare at the Quneitra border crossing of the Israeli annexed-Golan Heights. March 23, 2019. AFP

Using Yemen's Houthi rebels as a proxy, "Iran is firing missiles into Saudi Arabia, endangering not only the lives of the Saudi people but all of those who transit", he said.

"This is unacceptable and we’re going to use every tool that we can to achieve the outcome that, frankly, the people in Yemen want and the people of the region are going to continue to demand."

Mr Pompeo affirmed that a US plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, which has not yet been made public, would have to be approved by both parties. "Our mission is to try to show them what that might look like," he said.

"You know the conditions of the people in Gaza who are under the thumb of Hamas. I don’t think that’s how the Palestinians living in Gaza want their lives to be. We want to show them a path – a path forward – which will make their lives better and the lives of their children and their grandchildren. That’s the American vision."