Riyadh, Jan 14(AP/UNB) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks in Saudi Arabia Monday on a range of Mideast crises, topped by the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, threats from Iran and the Saudi response to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the latest stop of his Middle East tour that has so far been dominated by questions and concerns about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The State Department said Monday that Pompeo would cancel his planned final stop in Kuwait on Tuesday due a death in his family. He will still travel to Oman later Monday.
In Riyadh, the Saudi-led fight against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, where the situation has been deemed the world's worst humanitarian crisis, will be a major agenda item, as well as holding perpetrators accountable for Khashoggi's slaying.
Pompeo told the crown prince that his Middle East journey, which has taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, had been "good" so far.
"I want to talk to you about a couple of places we've been. We think we learned a lot along the way that will be important going forward," he said.
The prince replied that the Saudis would "try to add more positivity, as much as we can."
Speaking with senior Saudi officials on his arrival in Riyadh late Sunday, Pompeo stressed the importance of supporting a political solution to end Yemen's civil war and "the need for continued regional efforts to stand against the Iranian regime's malign activity and to advance peace, prosperity, and security," the State Department said.
The department said Pompeo also made clear the importance of a credible investigation into Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Pompeo "emphasized the importance of Saudi Arabia continuing its investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in order to ascertain facts, assess information, and hold those responsible accountable."
The relationship between Riyadh and Washington remains tense following Khashoggi's brutal slaying and dismemberment at the consulate. Members of Prince Mohammed's entourage have been implicated in the killing and U.S. lawmakers have demanded America pull back its support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
"We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring that the accountability is full and complete with respect to the unacceptable murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Pompeo told reporters in Qatar on Sunday before heading to Riyadh. "We'll continue to talk about that and make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable certainly by the Saudis, but by the United States as well, where appropriate."
The ongoing dispute between Qatar and four of America's other close Arab partners will also feature in Pompeo's talks as it continues to be a major hindrance in a U.S.-led effort to unite the Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan in a military alliance to counter Iran.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began a boycott of Qatar in June 2017, alleging Qatar funds extremist groups and has too-cozy ties to Iran.
Qatar has long denied funding extremists, but Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that gives its citizens the highest per-capita income in the world. It restored diplomatic relations with Iran after the crisis erupted, marking a setback for Saudi Arabia, which views the Shiite power Iran as its main regional rival.
A similar dispute involving Qatar erupted in 2014. But this time positions have hardened against Qatar, whose support for Islamist opposition groups has angered the Arab nations now boycotting it.
However, comments in Doha by Pompeo and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani gave no sense of any movement in the ongoing diplomatic crisis with Doha.
Later, speaking to a U.S. Embassy staff member in Qatar who said her job was moving to the UAE due to the boycott's effects, Pompeo was even more frank.
"It's on everyone's mind and not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday — and I regret that," Pompeo said.
Jerusalem, Jan 13 (AP/UNB) — Israel's prime minister says the country struck an Iranian weapons storage facility over the weekend at the Damascus International Airport.
Benjamin Netanyahu's comments on Sunday at his weekly Cabinet meeting mark a rare public acknowledgement of Israeli activity in Syria.
Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets throughout the Syrian civil war but has generally refrained from commenting about them for fear of being drawn into the fighting.
Only recently has it begun to speak publicly about thwarting the weapons smuggling from Iran through Styria into Lebanon. Israel's outgoing military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, did so over the weekend in various interviews.
Netanyahu says Israel says the recent strikes prove "we are committed more than ever to act against Iran in Syria."
Israel's military says its troops have found the sixth and the last tunnel dug by Hezbollah militants for cross-border attacks and that its operation at the Lebanese border is now over.
Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus says the final tunnel is the largest one discovered so far, running hundreds of meters (yards) from under a Lebanese home and deep into Israeli territory.
Israel launched the "Operation Northern Shield" last month to detect and destroy what it called a vast network of Hezbollah tunnels aimed for militants to sneak across the border and carry out attacks.
Israel and the United Nations say the tunnels violate a cease-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Conricus says the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as UNIFIL, has been updated.
Tehran, Jan 13 (AP/UNB) — Angered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement that Poland will host an international conference on Iran in mid-February, Iranian authorities on Sunday summoned Warsaw's top diplomat in the country and called off a Polish film festival.
The moves followed a tweet by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who denounced the upcoming summit as America's anti-Iran "circus."
Pompeo is currently on a Mideast tour, bringing the Trump administration's anti-Iran message to the region. He told Fox News before departing from Cairo on Friday that an international conference on Iran and the Middle East will take place in Poland on Feb. 13-14.
The official IRNA news agency said Iran conveyed its protest over this to Poland's Chargé d'Affaires Wojciech Unolt, demanding that Poland not side with this "hostile move" by the United States against Tehran.
The statement quoted an unnamed Iranian official as saying that if the summit goes ahead, Iran will resort to unspecified "counter-action" toward Poland, without elaborating.
Separately, Iran's culture ministry in a statement said it was suspending "Poland's Film Week," supposed to be held in Tehran in late January, until Warsaw mends its ways and starts applying "appropriate behavior" toward Tehran.
Poland's Foreign Ministry in Warsaw could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday morning. However, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said Saturday he hoped the conference will provide a new platform for international dialogue and allow the U.S. and European Union to find a closer position on Iran.
Czaputowicz said Poland supported the EU's efforts to preserve its nuclear agreement with Iran, but warned the deal alone would not keep Iran from "destabilizing" the region.
After Pompeo's announcement, Zarif said Friday on Twitter that the conference would bring shame on the Polish government and invoked how during World War II Iran saved Polish lives.
Iran hosted tens of thousands of Polish war refugees who were brought to the country after surviving work camps in the Soviet Union and before they migrated to then-emerging Israel, New Zealand and some African countries. Scores stayed on after the war, choosing to reside in Iran.
Zarif tweeted: "Polish Govt can't wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus."
Tehran and Warsaw have had good relations. The balance of trade between the two nations was $230 million in 2017, up from 80 million in 2015 when Iran and world powers agreed to a landmark nuclear deal that curbed Tehran's nuclear program in return for lifting harsh economic sanctions.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S pulled out of that accord in May 2018 and imposed new and tougher sanctions on Iran last fall.
On Sunday, Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional archrival, where he is expected to call for increasing pressure on Tehran and promote a U.S.-backed initiative to form what some have termed an "Arab NATO" that would bring the region together in a military alliance to counter threats from Iran.
Beirut, Jan 13 (AP/UNB) — Syrian President Bashar Assad is poised to be readmitted to the fold of Arab nations, a feat deemed unthinkable eight years ago as he forcefully crushed the uprising against his family's rule.
Gulf Arab nations, once the main backers of rebels fighting Assad, are lining up to reopen their embassies in Syria, worried about leaving the country to regional rivals Iran and Turkey and missing out on lucrative post-war reconstructive projects.
Key border crossings with neighbors, shuttered for years by the war, have reopened, and Arab commercial airlines are reportedly considering resuming flights to Damascus.
And as President Donald Trump plans to pull out America's 2,000 soldiers from northeastern Syria, government troops are primed to retake the area they abandoned in 2012 at the height of the war.
Tehran, Jan 13 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry denied that Tehran considers withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear deal, Tasnim news agency reported on Sunday.
The Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi strongly denied recent "rumors" inside the country about the country's plan to pull out of the landmark deal as "untrue."
It seems that certain groups are "systematically" fomenting mental chaos in the society and disrupting the market to favor the profiteers, Qasemi was quoted as saying.
"They are attempting to spread biased and false news to create negative psychological atmosphere in the market," he said, adding that any decision about the nuclear deal comes within the purview of the Iranian high council monitoring the accord.
Qasemi also ruled out any disagreement between the Iranian foreign minister and President Hassan Rouhani over the ongoing political affairs of the Islamic republic.
He dismissed the idea that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is going to resign or that there is a division between the foreign ministry and the administration, saying that "certain elements inside the country are insanely spreading false news to weaken the foreign ministry and its hardworking personnel."
Iran has stressed that the country will remain in the nuclear deal as long as the nuclear deal serves its interests.