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Iran, Gaza on Agenda as Pompeo Visits Egypt

STATE DEPARTMENT, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with Egyptian officials Thursday in Cairo as he seeks support from allies to apply further pressure on Iran.

Pompeo is scheduled to give an afternoon speech about the U.S. relationship with the Middle East in the Trump era, with what the State Department says is a focus on commitment to peace, prosperity, stability and security in the region.

First he will hold talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and a series of sessions with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, with additional topics including Gaza and economic cooperation.

Mideast tour

Pompeo is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East where, in addition to urging governments to try to make Iran alter its behavior, he is also giving reassurances about U.S. counterterrorism efforts as the United States prepares to withdraw its troops from Syria.

Before traveling to Egypt, Pompeo made unannounced visits Wednesday to Irbil and Baghdad in Iraq.

A common understanding that the battle against Daesh, to counter Daesh, and the fight to counter Iran is real and important, Pompeo told journalists before leaving Irbil, referring to Islamic State militants.

Pompeo met with top officials from the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government after his meeting with senior leaders of the Iraqi government.

Real progress has been made since the elections in Iraq, which I think will put this country and this region in a far better place, said the top U.S. diplomat, adding the United States would continue to work with all parties to ensure democracy in Iraq.

In addition to talks with Iraqi President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Iraq’s Council of Representatives Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi, Pompeo also met with Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Chancellor of Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) Masrour Barzani and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani on Wednesday.

The State Department said the United States emphasized its commitment to addressing Iraq’s security challenges, including the continuation for our security partnership with Iraqi Security Forces.

Bolton’s visit

Pompeo’s visit to Iraq followed U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit to Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to meet with him.

Erdogan dismissed Bolton’s calls for the protection of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a precondition to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria.

The YPG is a crucial ally in Washington’s war against Islamic State militants, but Ankara considers it a terrorist group linked to an insurgency inside Turkey.

On Wednesday, Pompeo said Washington and Ankara continued to have conversations about the U.S. troops withdrawal while completing the mission of taking down the last elements of the [IS] caliphate before we depart.

While acknowledging the threat that Turkey is facing from terrorists, Pompeo said the United States wanted to make sure the Syrian Kurdish fighters are protected.

It’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected, and Erdogan has made commitments, said Pompeo, adding Erdogan has used the language that he has no beef with the Kurds.

US Syrian troops

Pompeo’s trip comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement last month that he will pull all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, causing alarm among U.S. allies in the region.

A recent report by Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) pointed out the U.S. National Defense Strategy under the Trump administration had outlined a move from counterterrorism measures against non-state actors like al-Qaida and Islamic State to security and economic competition with states like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.

The report, led by its director of Transnational Threats Project, Seth Jones, said that while these countries present legitimate threats to the United States, declaring victory too quickly against terrorism and then shifting too many resources away from counterterrorism would be very risky.

The top U.S. diplomat began his trip Tuesday in Jordan where he pledged to redouble diplomatic and commercial efforts to put real pressure on Iran to change what the Trump administration has said is a number of malign behaviors in the region.

Other stops on Pompeo’s trip include Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.

Source: Voice of America