Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been on a world tour that brought him to Munich, parts of Africa and, most recently, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Not surprisingly, Pompeo’s visit to the two Gulf countries was mostly focused on countering Iran, although he was forced to address the issue of imprisoned US citizens inside Saudi Arabia.
Before traveling to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo talked to reporters in Ethiopia on Wednesday about the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. “The pressure campaign continues. It’s not just an economic pressure campaign, it’s diplomatic pressures, isolation through diplomacy, as well,” Pompeo said.
After pressure from a group US Senators, Pompeo said he would bring up the issue of imprisoned US citizens to the Saudis. Among those imprisoned are Badr al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haidir, two writers and dual US-Saudi citizens. Both were arrested in April 2019, amidst a crackdown on dissidents led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Al-Haidir is the son of women’s rights defender Aziza al-Yousef, who is currently awaiting trial for her activism.
Like most of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, the imprisonment of US citizens does not affect US support for the Kingdom. Pompeo told reporters on Thursday, “The Saudis share our strategic objectives. They are an important ally and partner, at the same time we continue to make clear our expectations with respect to a broad range of human rights issues.”
Pompeo also visited Prince Sultan Airbase, where 2,500 hundred US troops are currently stationed. US troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia last year, supposedly in an effort to counter Iran. Pompeo tweeted on Friday, “I visited #PrinceSultanAirbase to highlight the long-standing USA-KSA security partnership & to reaffirm America’s determination to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian aggression.”
A September attack against Saudi oil infrastructure that was claimed by Yemen’s Houthis was blamed on Iran by both the US and Saudi Arabia. Pompeo doubled down on that accusation on Thursday and said, “No reasonable person has any doubt about where these missiles came from.” There is still no evidence that proves Iran’s guilt in the attack, and the Houthis continue to launch similar offenses, something they’ve vowed to do as long as the Saudi’s keep bombing Yemen.
After Saudi Arabia, Pompeo traveled to Oman to meet the countries new leader, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq. Sultan Haitham succeeded Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who passed away on January 10th. Pompeo tweeted on Friday, “We will continue our strong partnership with Oman to counter regional threats and advance prosperity, security, and stability in the region.”
Oman plays a unique role in the Gulf, keeping close diplomatic ties with both the US and Iran. The country facilitated talks that led to the 2015 nuclear deal. Oman borders Yemen and has managed to stay neutral in the war between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government while still providing humanitarian aid.
The new sultan has vowed to keep the neutral foreign policy of his predecessor. After he was sworn in, Haitham said, “We will keep following late sultan’s foreign policy, which is based on peaceful coexistence … non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, respect for countries’ sovereignty and international cooperation in various fields.”