Pompeo talks up Iran coalition

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, shakes hands with Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al Jubeir as Pompeo departs Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday en route to Abu Dhabi.
Jacquelyn Martin ~ Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks Monday with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about countering the military threat from Iran by building a broad, global coalition including Asian and European countries.

While Pompeo has seemingly willing and wealthy partners in the two Arab allies, he is likely to face a tough sell in Europe and Asia, particularly from those nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that President Donald Trump repudiated last year.

With tensions running high in the region after Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone June 20 and Trump said he aborted a retaliatory strike, Iran's naval commander warned his forces won't hesitate to down more U.S. drones violating its airspace. The U.S. has been building up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. announced additional sanctions Monday on Iran aimed at pressuring the Iranian leadership into talks. The sanctions, re-imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, have crippled the Iranian economy and pushed up the cost of living. Iran has decried U.S. sanctions, which essentially bar it from selling its oil internationally, as "economic terrorism."

After departing Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Pompeo met in the UAE with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to sell the Trump administration's idea for maritime security in the Persian Gulf. The plan would involve the UAE, Saudi Arabia and another 20 countries, Pompeo was heard telling the Abu Dhabi prince.

"We'll need you all to participate, your military folks," Pompeo told the Abu Dhabi prince in the presence of some reporters traveling with him. "The president is keen on sharing that the United States doesn't bear the cost of this."

While in Saudi Arabia earlier, Pompeo tweeted he'd had a "productive meeting" with the Saudi monarch and discussed "heightened tensions in the region and the need to promote maritime security" in the Strait of Hormuz.

Pompeo, considered a hard-liner in Washington, referred to Iran as "the world's largest state sponsor of terror" before he embarked on the hastily arranged Middle East stops en route to India, Japan and South Korea.

He said he'd be speaking with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE "about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned, and how we can build out a global coalition ... not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe" prepared to push back against Iran.

But Germany, France and Britain, as well as Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear accord lifting sanctions on Iran in exchange for set limits on its uranium enrichment levels. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal last year.

Germany, Britain and France have sent envoys to Tehran recently, signaling they remain committed to diplomacy and dialogue. They cautioned against moves leading to conflict between the U.S. and Iran.

Berlin appears cool toward U.S. talk of a global coalition against Iran as it tries to salvage the nuclear deal. German media have drawn parallels between Pompeo's talk of a coalition and President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" against Iraq in 2003, which Germany and France opposed.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, said one option could be to "enhance" an existing multinational maritime force of about 30 countries fighting drug and arms smuggling in the region.

Alternatively, he said allied nations with commercial interests in the oil-rich region could launch an all-new maritime security initiative.

Another option could be military ships patrolling the Gulf waters and equipped with surveillance equipment to keep watch on Iran.

The narrow Strait of Hormuz, which lies between Iran and Oman and opens to the Persian Gulf, is paramount for Asian oil importers. An estimated 18 million to 20 million barrels of oil -- much of it crude -- pass through the strait every day.

The U.S. Navy, which has its 5th Fleet based in Bahrain to protect the strait, escorted oil tankers to ensure American energy supplies in the 1980s when Iran and Iraq were targeting each other's exports, but the U.S. is no longer as reliant on Arabian producers.

Today, any conflict that threatens tankers would badly disrupt crude supplies for energy-hungry countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia, which are among the top five importers of Arabian oil.

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