US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during an earlier visit to Riyadh on 16 October 2018
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faces a difficult balancing act Monday while he is pressing the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi while maintaining strategic ties with Riyadh.
The best American diplomat, on an extensive journey from the Middle East, held talks with King Salman and his son crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is internationally confronted with the murder of the journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Pompeo runs a diplomatic cord on his second politically sensitive visit to Saudi Arabia since the murder, under pressure from American lawmakers for a harsh response.
After his landing in Riyadh on Sunday evening, Pompeo poked to Saudi Arabia to continue his investigation into the murder, in talks with Adel al-Jubeir, Foreign Minister, and the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman.
"We will continue to talk with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring that the responsibility is complete and complete with regard to the unacceptable murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Pompeo told journalists before his arrival.
Khashoggi, an employee of the Washington Post, was assassinated on October 2 in what Saudi Arabia called a "rogue" operation, where the kingdom became one of the worst diplomatic crises and then the ties between Riyadh and Washington were fueled.
Pompeo's visit to Saudi Arabia is part of an extensive eight-day trip to Amman, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat and finally Kuwait City.
– Smile with MBS –
US President Donald Trump has removed international outrage to help Prince Mohammed in the killing of Khashoggi, whose body was torn apart at the consulate.
His support came despite the conclusion of the American Central Intelligence Agency that Prince Mohammed most probably ordered the murder. A two-part resolution approved by the US Senate last month also held the crown prince responsible for killing.
Riyadh prosecutors have announced indictments against 11 people and are looking for the death penalty against five of them. But they have acquitted Prince Mohammed, whose assistants on the right were allegedly involved in the murder.
The killing of Khashoggi has put a renewed spotlight on the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, seized by what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, but it was not clear if the subject would be discussed at the Monday meeting discussed.
On January 10, 2019, a flag flies over the Saudi consulate in Istanbul
During an earlier visit to Riyadh at the height of the Khashoggi affair, Pompeo's broad smile with the crown prince cried some Americans.
However, Trump has said that Washington wants to keep the alliance with the oil-rich kingdom, which he sees as a bulwark against the common enemy Iran and a lucrative buyer of American weapons.
Law groups have summoned Pompeo to prosecute Prince Mohammed on the imprisonment of female activists in the kingdom, amid claims that some of them were confronted with sexual harassment and torture during interrogation.
"I am struck by what is not included in Pompeo's itinerary: the brave female activists of Saudi Arabia who are held in the prisons of the kingdom for the search for rights and dignity," Alia al-Hathloul wrote The New York Times Sunday.
The sister of Hathloul, Loujain, is one of the more than a dozen activists arrested last May – just before the historic lifting of the decades-long ban on female drivers by Saudi Arabia.
– Golf crisis –
Pompeo met the Emir Sheikh of the Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on Sunday during his visit to Doha, where he refused to comment on reports that Washington had recently considered military action against Tehran.
He also called on Qatar and other Gulf Arab countries to end their worst political gap for years, which has seen Doha become diplomatic and economically isolated by neighboring former allies over the last 19 months.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – all US allies – broke ties with Qatar in June 2017 and accused them of supporting terrorist groups and seeking closer ties with Saudi archrival Iran.
Qatar – also an ally of the US – denies the accusations and accuses the countries of the search for regime change.
"As for the GCC … we are all more powerful if we work together if we have common challenges in the region and around the world," said Pompeo, referring to the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
"Disputes between countries with a common goal are never helpful."
He added: "President Trump and I both believe that the ongoing conflict in the region has continued for too long".
Mediation efforts by the United States, which initially seemed to confirm the boycott of Qatar, have come to a standstill, as highlighted by the recent resignation of the American emissary Anthony Zinni.
For Washington, turning the page about the crisis is essential for the successful launch of the Strategic Alliance of the Middle East (MESA), a NATO-like security pact that includes the Gulf States as well as Egypt and Jordan.
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