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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Iran nuclear deal in cross-hairs as top US diplomat begins Mideast tour in Riyadh

Former CIA director Pompeo is seen as holding anti-Iran views

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference during a NATO Foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on April 27, 2018. John Thys / AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference during a NATO Foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on April 27, 2018. John Thys / AFP

Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first stop of a whirlwind Middle East visit to cozy up to key allies and inform them on President Donald Trump's plan for the Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo was sworn in as secretary of state just two days ago and departed two hours later to attend NATO talks in Brussels.

The former CIA director is seen as holding anti-Iran views and is hawkish about projecting US military power. Given that President Trump has called the nuclear agreement the "worst deal ever" it seems likely the US will withdraw from the deal.

Pompeo will likely find a receptive audience in Saudi Arabia, where he was met on the tarmac in Riyadh by a sizeable Saudi Arabian delegation, which included Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and US ambassador Khalid bin Salman – brother of the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In March, President Trump threatened to reimpose sanctions against Iran unless European allies Britain, France and Germany agreed to amend the nuclear deal. But Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France – which forged the agreement alongside Iran and the United States – still maintain that the deal is the best way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

Speaking after a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Friday, Pompeo said Trump had not taken a decision on whether to abandon the deal but was not likely to stick to it without substantial changes.

"There's been no decision, so the team is working and I am sure we will have lots of conversations to deliver what the president has made clear," Pompeo told a news conference.

Another subject of talks is likely to be the US's future role in fighting ISIS in Syria. President Trump has called upon Saudi and other Gulf countries to provide funding and troops to replace US soldiers stationed in areas once controlled by ISIS in Syria.

This trip is not Pompeo's first to the kingdom. He was one of the first Trump administration officials to visit Saudi Arabia early in his tenure as CIA director. On this visit he is expected to meet Crown Prince bin Salman and King Salman.

His Riyadh visit will be followed by stops in Jerusalem and Amman.