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US ties with Saudi Arabia essential for ME stability: Pompeo

The United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is essential to the Middle East’s stability and security, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday.

“The relationship must go forward. We have to have good relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this administration intends to do so,” Pompeo said in press remarks.

Pompeo spoke in Abu Dhabi about the latest leg of a nine-nation Middle East tour aimed at reassuring allies of US commitment to the region after President Donald Trump’s announcement that American troops would be withdrawn from Syria. He is expected in Saudi Arabia this week.

The pullout caused particular concern among Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria, who fought with the US-led anti-ISIS coalition but fear the withdrawal of US protection will lead to an attack by Turkey, which views the YPG as terrorists.

Pompeo said he had discussed the issue with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and was confident that it could be resolved.

“We recognize the Turkish people’s right to defend their country from terrorists, but we also know that those ... who are not terrorists and fought alongside us for all this time deserve to be protected,” he said.

“There are many details to be worked out but I am optimistic we can achieve a good outcome.” 

He said the US envoy for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, had traveled to northeast Syria last week and would soon go to Ankara for talks on a UN-led political process to end the conflict in Syria.

He suggested that talks between the Assad regime and the Syrian Kurds could be part of a broader political solution in Syria. “We hope we can turn the corner here,” he said.

Pompeo said the withdrawal of US troops from Syria would make no difference to America’s regional strategic objectives; the mission to destroy ISIS and counter Iran’s influence remained the same.

“The fact that a couple of thousand uniformed personnel in Syria will be withdrawing is a tactical change,” he said.

“It doesn’t materially alter our capacity to continue to perform the military actions that we need to perform.”

In a speech in Cairo on Thursday, Pompeo vowed that the US would “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria. “It’s an ambitious objective, but it is ours, and it is our mission,” he said.

The US wants to create a Middle East Strategic Alliance against Iran, comprising the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan.

Washington will convene an international summit in Poland next month focusing on peace and stability in the Middle East, including Iran’s influence.