Mike Pompeo: Syria pullout won't stop fight against ISIS or Iranian influence

US Secretary of State's comments came during Abu Dhabi visit where he met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed

Powered by automated translation

America's withdrawal from Syria is merely a "tactical change" that will not alter its military capacity to fight ISIS or Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday after arriving in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Pompeo arrived in Abu Dhabi late on Friday in the latest stop of his regional tour to reassure Washington's Middle East allies of its commitment to the region.

He was greeted on Saturday by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The two discussed strengthening co-operation between the US and Emirates to improve regional stability.

The meeting was also attended by Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive of Mubadala Development Company; Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation; and Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, National Security Adviser.

Last month, US President Donald Trump said ISIS had been defeated in Syria and surprised other members of the global coalition against the militant group by saying he was pulling US forces out of the embattled country.

In the weeks following Mr Trump’s announcement, the Pentagon began implementing his order but officials have played down the speed of the withdrawal.

America’s main ally fighting ISIS in Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, held emergency talks with Moscow and Damascus over fears that Turkey will use the US withdrawal to launch an offensive. The People's Protection Units, or YPG – a major component of the SDF – is regarded by Ankara as an offshoot of the PKK Kurdish militant group which Turkey calls a terrorist organisation.

Russian military police have since been seen around Manbij, an important SDF-held city near the Turkish border that Kurds fear will be the main target of Ankara's offensive.

Last week US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the US would only remove troops from Syria once certain objectives were met – including the complete defeat of ISIS and guarantees from Ankara not to attack Kurdish groups.

Speaking to journalists in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, Mr Pompeo said he was "optimistic" a way could be found to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to "defend their country from terrorists" following a US pull-out from Syria.

"We are confident we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those," he said.

Mr Pompeo and his wife Susan were greeted at Abu Dhabi International Airport by UAE Minister of State Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh and US Charge d'Affaires Steve Bondy.

Mr Pompeo said he believed a coming Iranian satellite launch was "another step in their understanding of how it is you can launch" an intercontinental ballistic missile.

He said this would breach UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and the "whole world needs to come together to oppose that".

Mr Pompeo said an coming summit on February 13 in Warsaw would look at various issues, one of which would be "how it is we together can get Iran to behave like a normal nation". He also said the US was committed helping "the Iranian people to have opportunity and democracy".

His visit follows an address in Cairo on Thursday in which he pledged continuing US support for stabilising the region and countering the threat posed by Iran and its role in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

The UAE's ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, said Mr Pompeo's speech had reinforced a fundamental pillar of American foreign policy, that "America’s engagement in the Middle East is critical to US and global security and prosperity", and "clearly highlighted the most pressing threats to regional and global order – Iranian aggression and extremism".

The UAE has been a reliable and consistent partner to the US and would remain so, Mr Al Otaiba said.

"We will continue to work together to advance shared security interests like preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles, fighting terrorism and protecting freedom of navigation while advancing common values like religious freedom, economic opportunity and women’s empowerment."

The US State Department said Mr Pompeo's talks with the UAE leadership would cover "regional and bilateral issues, including ways to expand ties in areas such as trade and investment".

The secretary of state will also discuss the need for Yemen's warring parties to abide by agreements made at UN-brokered talks in Sweden, particularly the ceasefire and withdrawal of forces in Hodeidah, the department said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan arrive at Abu Dhabi International Airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Jan.  11, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

The ceasefire has yet to be fully implemented more than three weeks since it went into effect. According to the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels broke the truce hundreds of times and have yet to withdraw their forces from Hodeidah's ports.

The US supported the coalition's intervention with intelligence sharing and mid-air refuelling for its aircraft.

Mr Pompeo began his regional tour in Jordan on Tuesday, followed by a surprise trip to Iraq before travelling to Egypt. He is scheduled to visit all six GCC states before returning to Washington.

His trip, along with visits by Mr Bolton to Israel and Turkey, follow Mr Trump's sudden troop-withdrawal announcement last month.


Read more:

Mike Pompeo: Barack Obama is to blame for Iran's expansion 

Analysis: Cairo speech drives home Iran as 'common enemy' message