US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad has been "enormously successful" in the course of the seven-year war, while singling out its ally Iran as the "greatest threat" in the country.
Mr Pompeo, testifying before the appropriations committee in the Senate, delivered a hard-line view on Iran and its "client Hezbollah", accusing the Lebanon-based militant group of plotting against the United States.
“Hezbollah is a wholly funded client terrorist organisation of the Iranian regime,” Mr Pompeo told the committee, adding that it’s active on multiple fronts and is running “efforts for external plotting, including in the US”.
Asked by Senator James Lankford if there can be progress made in Syria “with Mr Assad present and Iran present”, Mr Pompeo gave a blunt: “No.”
The US diplomatic chief then said that “the Assad regime has been enormously successful in what’s coming up to seven years of war, but from America’s perspective it seems to me that Iran is the greatest threat [in Syria] and we ought to focus on that”.
He hoped to back to the political process, stressing that Washington has lot of allies, naming Jordan, the Gulf States and Israel, among others.
Addressing Turkey, Mr Pompeo said the Trump administration has been clear with Ankara about "the risks associated with [its] acquiring the S-400 [Russian missile defence system]." The US Senate passed a bill last week that would block delivery of F-35 jets to Turkey, unless it abandons the S-400 agreement with Russia.
Mr Pompeo said there is “long list” of disagreements with Turkey, such as the detention of the US pastor Andrew Brunson and on Syria, but that he is “hopeful that the result of the election can help put in place an outcome that pleases everyone”. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won in the latest election on Sunday, and his US counterpart called him to congratulate on Tuesday.
On the funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) that the US cut by more than half in February, Mr Pompeo said there are “couple of ideas being discussed on how we would fund UNRWA so schools open by the end of August”.
The secretary of state presented a hawkish view on Russia before Mr Trump meeting Vladimir Putin in few weeks in Europe. "We have been harder on Russia in this administration than has been the case in many previous administrations," he said, decrying "Russian occupation of Crimea" and its policies across Europe.
Mr Pompeo urged Europe to do more to push back against Russia, including decreasing energy dependence on Moscow and boosting Nato. He said Mr Trump "will make clear that meddling in our [US] elections is completely unacceptable", when he meets Mr Putin.