In a staunch and strongly worded defense of the relationship between Washington and Riyadh, Pompeo said downgrading ties would be a “grave mistake for the national security of the US and its allies.”
He highlighted Saudi Arabia’s stance against Iran, the role played in the fight against Daesh, and the Kingdom’s aid efforts for Syrian refugees.
Writing on the State Department’s official blog, Pompeo also defended America’s support for the Arab Coalition’s military operation in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthi militia.
“The Kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East,” Pompeo said. “Saudi Arabia, like the US – and unlike these critics – recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world.
“An emboldened Iran would spread even more death and destruction in the Middle East, spark a regional nuclear-arms race, threaten trade routes, and foment terrorism around the world.”
Pompeo’s comments were published shortly before he and Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed senators about Saudi Arabia and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudi journalist was murdered in the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2, in what Saudi prosecutors say was a botched repatriation attempt by rogue agents. The case has led to some pressure from within Washington for the Trump administration to review the historic and deep relations between the two countries.
But this was dismissed by Pompeo, who said Khashoggi’s death was being used by Donald Trump’s opponents to try to undermine his rebuilding of ties with Saudi Arabia.
“Is it any coincidence that the people using the Khashoggi murder as a cudgel against President Trump’s Saudi Arabia policy are the same people who supported Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Iran – a regime that has killed thousands world-wide, including hundreds of Americans, and brutalizes its own people?” he said.
Pompeo said the vast social and economic reforms underway in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would not be helped by downgrading relations with Riyadh.
“The crown prince has moved the country in a reformist direction, from allowing women to drive and attend sporting events, to curbing the religious police and calling for a return to moderate Islam,” he said.
On Yemen, Pompeo said the crown prince had acted quickly “to root out Iran’s destabilizing influence” and praised the Kingdom’s aid efforts in the country.
“Iran has no interest in easing Yemeni suffering; the mullahs don’t even care for ordinary Iranians,” he said. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relieve suffering in Yemen. Iran has invested zero.”
He announced that the US would provide an additional $131 million for food aid in Yemen.
Mattis told members of the Senate in the closed-doors briefing that US involvement in Yemen is central to American security interests. He warned that ending US involvement in the conflict would “be misguided on the eve of the promising initial negotiations.”
Pompeo said Saudi Arabia’s other efforts in the region had also helped contain Iran, combat extremist groups and relieve the suffering of the displaced.
He said in Iraq, Saudi Arabia was “working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s.”