Pompeo heads home after appearing to hit wall in push for Israel ties

US secretary of state wraps up Middle East tour with visit to Oman, where he discusses ‘building regional peace, stability, and prosperity’ with the country’s new sultan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) is welcomed by a Sudanese official in Khartoum on August 25, 2020. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) is welcomed by a Sudanese official in Khartoum on August 25, 2020. (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday visited Oman’s new sultan, the last stop on a Middle East trip that sought to build on an American-brokered deal to have Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalize relations.

However, he returned home after stops in Bahrain, Oman and Sudan apparently empty-handed with none of the conservative Arab nations willing for now to follow Abu Dhabi in normalizing ties with the Jewish state.

“Met today with Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al-Said on the importance of building regional peace, stability, and prosperity through a united Gulf Cooperation Council,” Pompeo tweeted as he left Oman, the last stop on his itinerary.

“Grateful for our strong security partnership and economic ties.”

The six-nation GCC has been torn apart by the years-long boycott of council member Qatar by fellow members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as part of a political dispute. The GCC’s other two members, Kuwait and Oman, have pushed for the countries to reconcile, as has the US amid the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy targeting Iran.

Oman’s official news agency ONA reported after the meeting that “aspects of the existing bilateral cooperation between the Sultanate and the United States were reviewed within the framework of the strong relations that bind them,” but made no reference to relations with Israel.

Pompeo was the first high-level Western official to meet Sultan Haitham, the successor of Sultan Qaboos who died in January after ruling Oman for 50 years. In the time since, he’s focused entirely on overhauling the sultanate’s government, though he said he planned to continue Oman’s non-interference policy in the region. Oman for years has served as a key interlocutor between Iran and the West.

Accompanying Sultan Haitham at the meeting was Oman’s new foreign minister, Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi.

Oman has long had dialogue with Israel and welcomed the United Arab Emirates’ August 13 announcement that it had normalized ties, while reaffirming its support for the Palestinians.

In this photo provided by Ministry of Presidential Affairs/WAM, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets United Arab Emirates national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Al-Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 26, 2020. (Rashed al-Mansoori/Ministry of Presidential Affairs/WAM via AP)

The US chief diplomat had said he was hopeful other nations would follow the UAE, which became only the third Arab country to establish relations with the Jewish state, after Egypt and Jordan.

However, Sudan’s transitional government on Tuesday dashed hopes for a speedy breakthrough, saying it has “no mandate” to take such a weighty step.

And Bahrain echoed the sentiments of its ally, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, that an accord with Israel would not materialize without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

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