CAIRO – The United States will host an international summit next month to promote stability and freedom in the Middle East, focusing on Iran’s regional influence, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an exclusive Fox News interview, while traveling in the Middle East.
“We’ll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world,” said Pompeo, announcing the February 13-14 event in Poland. “Countries will all come together to focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”
Pompeo added that the summit will bring together countries from Asia, Africa, the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the Middle East.
The announcement is the latest step in the Trump administration’s pursuit of what it calls a “pressure campaign” against Iran that includes withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and restoring sanctions the U.S. once lifted as part of the deal.
The United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, Iran and the European Union have remained in the agreement and have criticized the administration’s withdrawal from it.
The U.S. is leading a similar campaign against North Korea, though critics of the administration’s strategy claim State Department efforts to convince Kim Jong Un to surrender his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have stalled.
In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un suggested his country could cap production of nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. When asked whether that’s a possible path forward on negotiations with North Korea, Pompeo wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’re moving forward in these conversations, lots of ideas about how we might continue to decrease the risk to the American people,” he said. “And so reducing the threat from North Korea, whether that’s by our success to date in stopping their missile testing, stopping their nuclear testing, those are the important elements.”
He added that “we’ve got to get to full and final denuclearization.”
In June, Pompeo said, “We are going to get complete denuclearization” and that “only then will there be relief from the sanctions.”
Pompeo also addressed the arrest of Paul Whelan, an American traveling in Russia accused of espionage. When asked if he could unequivocally deny Whelan was spying for the U.S., Pompeo did not, saying, “For a lot of reasons I can’t say much more about that particular case.”
The secretary is in the middle of a nine-country trip through the Middle East, as the Trump administration is confronted with questions over when and how it plans to remove American forces from Syria.
Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, said in October 2017, that Syrian President Bashar al Assad had no role in Syria’s political future, but when asked whether that is still the U.S. position, Pompeo today said the Assad regime will be part of those conversations.
“We want to make sure all the options are open as that political discourse begins,” he said. “We are very hopeful that we will get the bad actors in the region, the Russians and the Iranians, to come to the table, along with the regime and all the other stakeholders in there to come to the table and have conversations about what a post-civil-war political structure might look like in Syria.”
Ultimately, Pompeo said, the Syrian people will decide who will lead that country.
This weekend, Pompeo travels to Saudi Arabia. Before he left Washington, State Department officials previewing his trip to the region said the Saudi narrative surrounding Jamal Khashoggi’s murder hasn’t reached the threshold of credibility.
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a heinous atrocity and something that is completely unacceptable, and we are working to hold everyone connected to that accountable,” he said. “We’ll continue to do that as facts unfold. We’ve already sanctioned a number of people. We’ll continue to do that.”