US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran on Wednesday of using its resources to “foment terror” even as its people face the Middle East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak.
“Even during this pandemic the Iranians are using the ayatollah regime’s resources to foment terror across the world, even when the people of Iran are struggling so mightily,” Pompeo said in Jerusalem ahead of talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It tells you a lot about the soul of those people who lead that country,” he added.
Pompeo said that the campaign to rein in Tehran’s regional aggression “has been successful,” but he acknowledged that more work needs to be done in that sphere.
The trip to Israel was Pompeo’s first abroad in nearly two months amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US top diplomat wore a red, white and blue mask as he descended from his plane in Tel Aviv, but he and Netanyahu were without masks when they met at the premier’s residence.
Netanyahu said that Pompeo’s one-day visit was “a testament to the strength of our alliance.”
He also praised Washington’s continuing pressure on Iran, a country he said was persisting with its “aggressive designs and its aggressive actions against Americans, Israelis and everyone else in the region.”
Netanyahu was expected to use his meeting with Pompeo to push for the US to keep punishing sanctions on Iran in place, despite calls for them to be eased to allow the virus-hit country to recover. Pompeo is also set to embark on a diplomatic push to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in order to trigger a clause that would essentially kill the agreement and put more sanctions back in place.
Pompeo and Netanyahu were also expected to discuss a US blessing for Israeli plans to annex Jewish settlements and other territory in the West Bank, as well as US attempts to pull Israel away from China’s sphere, amid growing tensions between Beijing and Washington over the source of the virus and China’s initial crackdown on information about it.
Pompeo last month said the unilateral move to annex territory was up to Israel, a position he repeated in an interview published Tuesday in right-wing newspaper Israel Hayom, but reports have also swirled indicating that the US may want Israel to hold off or commit to supporting a Palestinian state on the rest of the West Bank, in exchange for the support.
Speaking Wednesday alongside Netanyahu, Pompeo called for “progress” on the implementation of the American proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but stopped short of specifically addressing the timing of Israel’s planned annexation.
“We’ll get a chance also to talk about the ‘Vision for Peace,’” he said. “There remains work yet to do, and we need to make progress on that. I am looking forward to it.”