|Date: Mar 21, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Pompeo vows to counter Iran ‘aggression’|
|OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday lauded the White House’s warm ties with Israel during a visit to the country and promised to step up pressure on Iran, giving a public boost to Israel’s prime minister at the height of a tight re-election campaign. Pompeo was on a regional tour focused largely on Iran, but the meeting and his cushy words on Netanyahu’s leadership will likely be seen as support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration amid the Israeli premier’s re-election fight.|
In comments after Pompeo’s arrival, Netanyahu said Trump’s pressure on Israel’s main enemy Iran was already having an effect, referring to his withdrawal from the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions.
“We need to increase it, we need to expand it, and together the United States and Israel are working in close coordination to roll back Iranian aggression in the region and around the world,” he said.
Pompeo noted a Middle East conference in Warsaw last month that included Arab nations as well as Israel, saying the discussions involved efforts “to stop Iran’s regional rampage” among other issues.
The U.S. envoy also spoke of Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction.
“With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself,” he said.
Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic Republic backs President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes there against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
“There is no limitation to our freedom of action, and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions as we do them,” Netanyahu said.
No meetings with Netanyahu’s opponents are scheduled, and Pompeo will not meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu is one of Trump’s strongest backers on the global stage. Since taking office, Trump has upended U.S. policy and taken a series of steps welcomed by Israel, most notably by recognizing Israeli-occupied Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The step prompted the Palestinians to sever ties with the White House. Trump also has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestinians’ de facto embassy to Washington.
The Palestinians have pre-emptively rejected a peace plan the White House is said to be preparing, saying that the Trump administration is unfairly biased toward Israel.
The White House said Netanyahu would be welcomed next Monday and Tuesday with both a working meeting and a dinner with Trump.
Netanyahu said he was looking forward to making the relationship “even stronger” during the visit. Pompeo’s two-day visit to Jerusalem also includes a stop at the new U.S. Embassy, which was transferred from Tel Aviv on Trump’s orders last year.
His stay in Jerusalem also included a four-way summit of Mediterranean natural gas producers, with Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades Wednesday night, to discuss plans to build a natural gas pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
Pompeo, who later travels to Lebanon from Israel, kicked off his regional tour in Kuwait where he met Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
He is pushing for a greater role for the Middle East Strategic Alliance, a U.S.-sponsored Arab NATO-style bloc aimed at uniting Washington’s Arab allies against Tehran.
The U.S. envoy renewed calls for a resolution to a festering dispute between Qatar and four other Arab nations, all of them America’s partners in the Middle East. Kuwait has been attempting to mediate an end to the crisis.
Pompeo said the dispute that has roiled the Gulf Cooperation Council for almost two years is hindering efforts to combat regional threats posed by Iran, Daesh (ISIS) and other terrorist organizations.
“It’s not in the best interest of the region, it’s not in the best interest of the world,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with Kuwait’s foreign minister. “We need the Gulf countries working together on the complex set of challenges that face each of them.”