Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to the Middle East next week in an effort to shore up support from America's Arab partners amid increasing tensions in the region.
In his first Mideast trip since President Donald Trump's recent announcement that he intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Pompeo will visit eight countries, starting with Jordan, the State Department said Friday.
The Syria decision, which led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the U.S. special envoy for the anti-Daesh coalition, is expected to dominate Pompeo's agenda, along with the Trump administration's hard line on Iran, the conflict in Yemen and the situation in Iraq.
In addition to Jordan, Pompeo plans stops in Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. The U.S. hopes each country will play a significant role in a planned regional strategic partnership being called an "Arab NATO."
His trip will come on the heels of a visit to Turkey and Israel by national security adviser John Bolton who is expected to discuss the Syria withdrawal with officials in Ankara and Jerusalem.
After a brief stop in Amman, Pompeo will fly to Cairo for counterterrorism and energy cooperation talks with Egyptian officials and to give a speech on the U.S. "commitment to peace, prosperity, stability, and security in the Middle East," the State Department said. The speech is expected to be a counterpoint to an address that President Barack Obama delivered in Cairo in 2009 in which he sought to reach out to the Muslim world.
From Cairo, Pompeo heads to Manama, Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, to continue discussions on the Middle East Strategic Alliance that is aimed at confronting Iran's increasing assertiveness in the Persian Gulf.
Pompeo will then visit Abu Dhabi, where he will push for all parties to the conflict in Yemen to follow through on de-escalation agreements they reached at U.N.-brokered peace talks in Sweden last month. The Emirates are Saudi Arabia's main partner in a coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The UAE is also at the center of a festering dispute involving most of the Gulf Arab nations and Qatar, which will be Pompeo's next stop. In Doha, the secretary plans to underscore the importance the U.S. places on Gulf unity in standing up against Iran. Qatar has been subject to a blockade by its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which accuse it of supporting terrorism, since June 2017.
From Doha, Pompeo will travel to Riyadh for talks with Saudi officials about Yemen, Iran and Syria as well as the investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post contributor was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.
Earlier this week, Saudi prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against five of 11 suspects Khashoggi's slaying, in which members of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage have been implicated.
Pompeo will wrap up his tour with stops in Muscat, Oman, and Kuwait City.
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