Pompeo Meets Saudi King and Crown Prince as U.S. Prods Iran for Talks

The top U.S. diplomat had told reporters before departing on the trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that Washington wanted talks with Tehran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the Trump administration's plan to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards a "foreign terrorist organization," April 8, 2019.
Patrick Semansky,AP

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with Saudi King Salman and separately with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the escalated crisis in the Persian Gulf.

Pompeo arrived in the Saudi city of Jiddah earlier on Monday in a hastily arranged visit amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran as Iran's navy chief warned Iranian forces wouldn't hesitate to shoot down more U.S. surveillance drones from their skies.

Pompeo was greeted upon his arrival in Jiddah by new U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid and Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.

Before departing, Pompeo said he'd be talking to officials in the Persian Gulf as well as Asia and Europe as he sets out to build an international coalition against Iran.

While Pompeo said the U.S. is prepared to negotiate with Iran, he also said new U.S. sanctions against Iran are to be announced Monday.

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Relations between longtime foes Iran and the United States have deteriorated since Trump withdrew Washington a year ago from a 2015 accord that curbed Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Tensions have flared following attacks in recent weeks on oil tankers in the Gulf which the United States blames on Iran, the shooting down of the drone last week, and repeated attacks on Saudi airports and oil installations by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis.

Washington and Riyadh have publicly accused Tehran of being behind the tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has denied involvement in the explosive blasts.

The UAE has called for a de-escalation following the attacks, including on four vessels off its coast last month which an initial investigation said was carried out by a state actor without naming a country.

Pompeo is expected to discuss "ways to support maritime security" when he meets Abu Dhabi's crown prince, the U.S. Mission to the UAE tweeted.

There was no public indication of whether Pompeo would raise the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during his Saudi visit. A U.N. report last week called for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials to be investigated given credible evidence against them.

The Trump administration is pressing the Saudis to show "tangible progress" toward holding to account those behind the killing and wants them to do so before the one-year anniversary of his death on Oct. 2, a senior administration official told Reuters this month.

But Trump told NBC on Sunday he did not discuss the murder in a recent phone call with the crown prince. Asked if the FBI should investigate, he responded: "I think it's been heavily investigated."

The murder, by Saudi operatives inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, tarnished the crown prince's international standing. The CIA and some Western countries believe he ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.