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 that includes Asian and European countries.
With tensions running high in the region after Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone Thursday and after President Donald Trump aborted a retaliatory strike, Iran's naval commander also spoke out Monday, warning that his forces won't hesitate to down more U.S. drones that violate its airspace.
"The enemy dispatched its most sophisticated ... and most complicated surveillance aircraft" to spy on Iran, and "everyone saw the downing of the drone," Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi said, referring to the U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone shot down by Iran last week. He said the shoot-down could "always be repeated, and the enemy knows it," the Tasnim News Agency reported.
After Pompeo departed Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the secretary of state met in the UAE with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to advocate 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 crown prince.
"We'll need you all to participate, your military folks," Pompeo said 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 that 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 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.
Among the ideas Pompeo discussed with the Saudis was one that would recruit allies to help outfit tankers and other ships in the Persian Gulf region with cameras that can monitor and corroborate threats from Iran.
The program, called Sentinel, is being developed as a response to the dueling accounts that have arisen after the drone downing last week. Iran said the unmanned aircraft was in Iranian airspace, but the United States said it was in international airspace. Both countries provided coordinates to make their case and accused the other of lying.
Under the Sentinel program, ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz would be provided cameras and other monitoring devices. Some would be escorted by other ships, both military and commercial.
"So it's not about shooting at people. It's about shooting pictures of Iranians. It's about proactive deterrents because Iranians just want to go out and do what they want to do and say, 'Hey, we didn't do it.' We know what they've done," Pompeo said.
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 nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump repudiated last year.
Germany, France and Britain, along with Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear accord that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its uranium enrichment levels. The three U.S. allies have sent envoys to Tehran recently, signaling they remain committed to diplomacy and dialogue. They cautioned against moves that can lead to conflict between the U.S. and Iran.
Germany 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.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said Monday that his country had "taken note via the media" of Pompeo's comments and that Germany's "top aim is and remains a de-escalation of the serious situation."
Also Monday, Trump tweeted that China and Japan depend on the security of the Persian Gulf waterways for the bulk of their oil imports, and he asked why the U.S. is protecting the shipping lanes for other countries "for zero compensation."
"All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey," Trump tweeted. He said the U.S. doesn't "even need to be there" because it meets much of its own energy needs.
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 that currently fights drug and arms smuggling in the region.
Alternatively, he said, allied nations with commercial interests in the oil-rich region could launch a new maritime security initiative.
Another option could involve military ships patrolling the Gulf waters while equipped with surveillance equipment to keep watch on Iran.
In his conference call with reporters Monday, Hook said the United States was "looking for a deal [with Iran] that is truly comprehensive" and that addresses "the spectrum of threats to peace and security that Iran represents." He said such an agreement would include Iran's nuclear program, its ballistic missiles, regional activities and the detention of dual citizens.
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. 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.
Pompeo's Mideast stops may also be aimed at reassuring Washington's Sunni Arab allies in the Gulf that the White House remains committed to keeping pressure on Shiite Iran after Trump's decision against retaliation. On a visit to Israel on Sunday, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said Iran should not "mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness."
On the eve of Pompeo's visit to Saudi Arabia, Yemen's Iranian-allied rebels attacked a Saudi airport near the Saudi-Yemen border, killing a Syrian citizen and wounding 21 other civilians, the Saudi military said.
The Houthi rebels claimed they used bomb-laden drones to attack the Abha airport, the second such attack in less than two weeks. In a statement, Pompeo condemned the Abha airport attack and said the war in Yemen is not an isolated conflict. He accused Iran of funneling cash, weapons and armed support to the Houthis, which Iran denies.
"With every attack conducted by an Iranian proxy, the regime tacks another day onto its 40-year track record of spreading death and chaos in the region, and beyond," Pompeo said in a statement.
Information for this article was contribued by Aya Batrawy, Jon Gambrell, Nasser Karimi, Geir Moulson, and Darlene Superville of The Associated Press; and by Erin Cunningham and Carol Morello of The Washington Post.
A Section on 06/25/2019
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