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Pompeo meets with Saudi leaders for Iran crisis talks

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is greeted by U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Dr. Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf upon arrival in Jeddah, on June 24, 2019. (Ron Przysucha/U.S. State Department)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he has discussed heightened tensions in the region with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman during a June 24 meeting in Jeddah.

Pompeo said they also discussed the need to promote maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, following attacks on oil tankers in Persian Gulf waters which Washington has blamed on Iran. Tehran denies the charges.

“Freedom of navigation is paramount,” Pompeo said on Twitter.

Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia earlier in the day on a trip to the Persian Gulf to build a “global coalition” on Iran that will include a visit to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

Pompeo told reporters on June 23 before leaving Washington that he will talk with the two U.S. Sunni Arab allies “about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition, a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe that…is prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

Pompeo also echoed President Donald Trump in saying Washington was prepared to negotiate with Tehran, without preconditions, in a bid to ease tensions between the longtime foes.

Trump said on Twitter on June 24 that countries should protect their own oil shipments in the Persian Gulf, and defined U.S. aims regarding Iran as “No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror.”

Those tensions have been mounting since the Unities States last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran.

Trump wants to force Tehran to renegotiate the nuclear agreement, arguing that the terms were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and to agree to curb its ballistic missile program and end its “malign” activities in the Middle East.

Iran denies it supports insurgent activity and says its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes. Iranian officials have also ruled out any negotiations on its missile program.

Mounting Tensions

Tensions have mounted in recent days following the downing of an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone by Iranian forces.

Tehran says the drone violated its airspace, while Washington insists the unmanned aircraft was shot down over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz.

Speaking on June 24, Iranian naval commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khazandi said the downing of a U.S. drone was a “firm response” to the United States and warned that it could be repeated.

The United States launched a cyberattack on Iranian weapons systems on June 20 in retaliation for the shooting down of the U.S. drone as well as recent attacks on oil tankers that Washington has blamed Iran for, U.S. media reported.

Tehran claimed on June 24 that cyberattacks against Iranian targets have not been successful.

“They try hard, but have not carried out a successful attack,” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, said on Twitter while adding that Iran has been facing cyberattacks for “a long time.”

On June 21, Trump said he had pulled out of launching conventional air strikes on Iran because he had been told that 150 Iranians would be killed.

Pompeo told his press conference on June 23 that a “significant set of new sanctions ” would be announced later on June 24 aimed at further denying Iran the resources “to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapons system, [and] to build out their missile program.”

“We’re prepared to negotiate with no preconditions. They know precisely how to find us,” he also said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on June 24 that the threat of more U.S. sanctions “is a reflection of the deliberate and purposeful escalation policy” while adding that the measures were “totally counterproductive and dangerous.”

The U.S. secretary of state’s stops in the Saudi city of Jeddah and the U.A.E. capital, Abu Dhabi, were arranged as additions to a trip to India from where he is to join Trump in Japan and South Korea.

On June 24 in Jerusalem, national-security advisers from the United States, Russia, and Israel are set to begin a two-day summit expected to focus on the Middle East and particularly Iran.

Trump Warns Of ‘Obliteration’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the meetings between John Bolton, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Nikolai Patrushev as “a very important summit for ensuring stability in the Middle East during turbulent times.”

Patrushev, the secretary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Security Council, said that at the meeting “Russia will take Iran’s interests into account, making them known to the Israelis and the Americans,” according to the state-run TASS news agency.

In a press conference with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 23, Bolton warned Iran that it should not “mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness.”

No one has granted Iran a “hunting license in the Middle East,” he said.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rohani claimed that the United States’ “interventionist military presence” in the Middle East was responsible for the region’s problems.

In an interview with NBC aired on June 23, Trump reiterated that he doesn’t want war with Iran, but if it comes, “it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”

The U.S. president said he would be willing to sit down with Iranian officials to negotiate a deal.

“If you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise, you can live in a shuttered economy for a long time to come,” Trump said.