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Pompeo in Bahrain on first leg of tour of Gulf allies

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after arriving at Manama International Airport in Manama, Bahrain, Jan. 11, 2019. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Bahrain on Friday, the first leg of a tour of Gulf monarchies which Washington says are “critical” to confronting Iran and militants.

“These Gulf partnerships are critical to achieving shared regional objectives — defeating Daesh, countering radical Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy supplies and rolling back Iranian aggression,” a State Department spokesman said.

In Bahrain, Pompeo is due to have a working lunch with King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman and Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, according to his official program.

Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet with around 7,800 US military personnel deployed in the country, as well as a British naval base.

It is one of the closest allies of regional power house Saudi Arabia and shares its hostility Iran.

“Bahrain is a staunch supporter of countering Iran’s malign efforts” in the region, the US spokesman said.

“Bahrain continues efforts to investigate and counter Iranian sanctions evasion and combat illicit maritime activity,” he added.

Pompeo’s visit is part of a whistlestop regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria.

The US top diplomat flew in to Manama from Cairo and has already visited Amman, Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.

He will also visit the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

State Department officials have said Pompeo hopes his trip will strengthen the GCC.

The State Department has said that a “united Gulf Cooperation Council the backbone for regional peace, prosperity, security and stability” and key to countering Iran.

It said Pompeo would also work with regional leaders to advance a proposed Middle East Strategic Alliance — a NATO-style security pact.