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Pompeo in Saudi Arabia Amid Tensions   06/24 06:41

   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia on Monday in a 
hastily arranged visit amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran as 
Iran's navy chief warned Iranian forces wouldn't hesitate to shoot down more 
U.S. surveillance drones from their skies.

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was 
in Saudi Arabia on Monday in a hastily arranged visit amid mounting tensions 
between Washington and Tehran as Iran's navy chief warned Iranian forces 
wouldn't hesitate to shoot down more U.S. surveillance drones from their skies.

   The downing of the drone, valued at more than $100 million, saw the United 
States pull back from the brink of a military strike on Iran after President 
Donald Trump last week called off strikes in retaliation.

   Iran's naval commander, Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, threatened Washington, 
saying that Tehran is capable of shooting down other American spy drones that 
violate Iranian airspace.

   "We confidently say that the crushing response can always be repeated, and 
the enemy knows it," Khanzadi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim 
news agency during a meeting with a group of defense officials.

   Tensions have been mounting since Trump last year withdrew the U.S. from a 
global nuclear deal with Iran and began pressuring Tehran with economic 
sanctions. A fresh round of Iran sanctions is to be announced Monday in a bid 
to force the Iranian leadership into talks. Iran has decried the U.S. 
sanctions, which essentially bar Iran from selling its oil internationally, as 
"economic terrorism."

   Pompeo, considered a hard-liner in the Trump administration, met with Saudi 
King Salman in the Saudi city of Jiddah. From Saudi Arabia, Pompeo will be 
heading to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, another close U.S. ally and 
partner.

   Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are alarmed by Iran's military 
reach and are working to limit its influence in the region.

   On the eve of Pompeo's visit to the kingdom, Yemen's Iranian-allied rebels 
attacked a Saudi airport near the Saudi-Yemen border, killing a Syrian resident 
and wounding 21 other civilians, the Saudi military said.

   The Houthi rebels claimed they used bomb-laden drones in the attack on the 
Abha airport, the second in less than two weeks.

   Saudi Arabia has been at war with the rebel Houthis in Yemen for more than 
four years. The Houthis say the attacks targeting the kingdom are a response to 
relentless Saudi airstrikes on Yemen that have killed thousands.

   Before his departure to the kingdom, Pompeo said he wants to build a global 
coalition against Iran.

   "We'll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all 
strategically aligned, and how we can build out a global coalition, a coalition 
not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe, that 
understands this challenge as it is prepared to push back against the world's 
largest state sponsor of terror," Pompeo said about Iran.

   But even as Pompeo delivered his tough talk, he echoed Trump and Vice 
President Mike Pence in saying the U.S. is prepared to negotiate with Iran, 
without preconditions, in a bid to ease tensions.

   "They know precisely how to find us," Pompeo said.

   Trump initially said Iran had made a "very big mistake" and that it was 
"hard to believe" that shooting down the drone last Thursday was not 
intentional. But he also said over the weekend that he appreciated Iran's 
decision to not shoot down a manned U.S. spy plane, and he opined about 
eventually becoming Iran's "best friend" if Tehran ultimately agrees to abandon 
its drive to build nuclear weapons and he helps the country turn around its 
crippled economy.

   Iran has long said its nuclear program is for purely for peaceful energy 
purposes.

   Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, stepped in during a visit to 
Jerusalem Sunday with a blunt warning, saying Iran should not "mistake U.S. 
prudence and discretion for weakness" after Trump called off the military 
strike.

   Trump said he backed away from the planned strikes after learning that about 
150 people would be killed, but he said the military option remained on the 
table.

   A longtime Iran hawk, Bolton emphasized that the U.S. reserved the right to 
attack at a later point.

   "No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President 
Trump said on Friday our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go," Bolton said 
during an appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a 
longtime and outspoken Iran critic.

   On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States' 
"interventionist military presence" for fanning the flames.

   Pompeo, who addressed reporters from the tarmac before he boarded his 
airplane in Washington, declared the goal of his talks with the Saudi kingdom 
and the UAE is to deny Iran "the resources to foment terror, to build out their 
nuclear weapon system, to build out their missile program."

   U.S. military cyber forces on Thursday launched a strike against Iranian 
military computer systems, according to U.S. officials. The cyberattacks 
disabled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps computer systems that controlled its 
rocket and missile launchers, the officials said.

   Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Sunday the U.S. 
"conducted a cyber operation contrary to international law."

   Throughout the recent crisis, Trump has wavered between bellicose language 
and actions toward Iran and a more accommodating tone, including a plea for 
negotiations. Iran has said it is not interested in a dialogue with Trump. His 
administration is aiming to cripple Iran's economy and force policy changes by 
re-imposing sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports.


(KA)

 
 
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