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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Mattis to travel to Gulf and Middle East amid soap opera in DC

The secretary of defense will visit Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait while the political elite at home awaits the next move

Jim Mattis, left, and Libyan prime minister Fayez Serraj stand for the Libyan National Anthem before meeting at the Pentagon. AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Jim Mattis, left, and Libyan prime minister Fayez Serraj stand for the Libyan National Anthem before meeting at the Pentagon. AP Photo/Cliff Owen

While most of Washington DC was glued to their TV sets watching the ongoing drama of Michael Flynn’s court appearance and the rumours swirling around which members of the Trump administration may be next to receive a call from special counsel Robert Mueller, the business of government ground on.

It was announced that secretary of defense James Mattis was leaving on Friday, following what must have been an interesting lunch with president Donald Trump and secretary of state Rex Tillerson – more on whom later – at the White House, on a trip that will encompass the Middle East, west Africa and south Asia.

The trip, whose purpose is to “re-affirm the enduring US commitment to partnerships” in those key strategic regions, will see Mattis begin his engagements with a visit to Egypt on Saturday, where he will meet with president el-Sisi and minister of defense Sobhy.

Mr Mattis will travel on to Jordan on the same day – which has only just waved goodbye to British prime minister Theresa May – where he will take part in the Aqaba Process, a meeting on countering violent extremism in West Africa, hosted by King Abdallah II of Jordan.

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For the final leg of his trip, on Sunday, when the political TV shows will be making merry with the situation in DC, Mr Mattis will be in Pakistan, where he will meet prime minister Abassi and the head of the army, General Bajwaand. The trip will end in Kuwait on Monday, with a meeting with Emir Sabah Ahmad al-Sabah and other Kuwaiti leaders.

Meanwhile, Mr Mattis’s beleaguered colleague Mr Tillerson, who just yesterday was widely tipped for the chop after The New York Times quoted unnamed senior administration officials saying that the president was planning to replace him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo, was probably expecting an awkward lunch with his boss.

However, the Flynn story appears to have saved his job, at least for now, as Mr Trump took to Twitter to announce that Mr Tillerson’s job was safe and that the media – again – had got the story wrong.

“The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon - FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Trump said on Twitter.

The tweet featured a picture of Mr Tillerson being sworn in as secretary of state with Mr Trump and his vice president Mike Pence looking on.

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