WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeated trumped-up "Iran threat" on a visit to Saudi Arabia amid US push to sell more arms to Riyadh, which is America's number one weapons buyer.
He met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and discussed shared security interests in the Persian Gulf and the alleged Iran threats.
Pompeo "assured the Crown Prince that the United States stands with Saudi Arabia in the face of these threats, as reflected in our greater military presence in Saudi Arabia," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Pompeo also visited Sultan Air Base near the Saudi capital, where some 2,500 US troops have been stationed since last summer.
"The visit to Prince Sultan air base and a nearby US Patriot battery highlights the longstanding US-Saudi security relationship and reaffirms America's determination to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian malign behavior," the State Department said.
The base is home to a squadron of US Air Force F-15E fighter jets that fly daily missions over Iraq and Syria and Patriot missile batteries.
Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia revolved mostly around countering Iran, although he was forced by a group of US Senators to address the issue of imprisoned US citizens inside Saudi Arabia.
Among those imprisoned are two writers and dual US-Saudi citizens, Badr al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haidar, son of prominent imprisoned feminist Aziza al-Yousef.
Like most of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, the imprisonment of US citizens does not affect US support for the kingdom, US media said.
Speaking in Ethiopia before his visit to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo stressed that the US "pressure campaign" against Iran continues, adding, "It’s not just an economic pressure campaign, it’s diplomatic pressures, isolation through diplomacy, as well."
The top US diplomat further held talks with Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid Bin Salman, who was previously ambassador to Washington. They discussed the US-Saudi partnership and ways to counter Iran, among other issues.
The US started beefing up its military presence in Saudi Arabia last year as both regimes claimed Iran has played a role in two separate attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in May and June 2019, without providing any evidence to support their accusation.
Additionally, Washington and Riyadh rushed to point the finger at Iran over the September 14, 2019 Yemeni air raids on Aramco installations, which disrupted about half of Saudi Arabia's oil capacity or 5 percent of the daily global oil supply.
The Islamic Republic categorically dismissed the claim. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also said that the world body’s investigators were “unable to independently corroborate” claims that Tehran was behind the Aramco raids.
In October 2019, Trump emphasized that the Saudis paid for the cost of the American troops in the kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia has graciously agreed to pay for the full cost of everything we’re doing for them. We’re sending some tremendous missiles over. We’re sending some great power over to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is paying for 100 percent of the cost, including the cost of our soldiers."
In January, he announced that Riyadh had "already deposited $1 billion in the bank" so that the US would continue to deploy troops.
Trump visited Saudi Arabia in May 2017 on his first foreign trip since becoming president. In the kingdom, he signed a weapons deal worth $110 billion.
Before his presidency, he described Saudi Arabia as "a milk cow" which would be slaughtered when its milk runs out.
After Saudi Arabia, Pompeo traveled to Oman on Friday to meet the country's new leader, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq who succeeded Sultan Qaboos Said al-Said last month.
“We will continue our strong partnership with Oman to counter regional threats and advance prosperity, security, and stability in the region,” Pompeo tweeted.
Muscat has close ties with both Washington and Tehran. Sultan Haitham has vowed to uphold his predecessor's foreign policy approach, which was based on non-interference.
Oman's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, who greeted Pompeo upon his arrival in Muscat on Friday, was quoted as saying that his government is in touch with the US and Iran, and that the possibility exists for dialogue between them.
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