Pompeo Expected to Press Saudi Crown Prince on Several Crucial Issues

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Pompeo Expected to Press Saudi Crown Prince on Several Crucial Issues


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince at the royal palace in the kingdom’s capital on Monday with the aim of pressing the prince on a range of thorny issues — including war, murder and diplomatic rifts — that have weakened the American-Saudi alliance and increased tensions among Arab nations.

“I want to talk to you about a couple of places we’ve been,” Mr. Pompeo told Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, at the start of their morning meeting. “We think we learned a lot along the way that will be important going forward.”

Mr. Mohammed, apparently sensing the delicate political situation, said, “we try to add more positivity as much as we can.”

Mr. Pompeo has been traveling through the Arab world since leaving Washington on Jan. 7, and Saudi Arabia is the most important stop on the trip.

At each stop, Mr. Pompeo has talked about the importance of countering Iran, a Persian country whose Shiite Muslim government is often at odds with the Sunni Muslim rulers of Arab nations.

Saudi Arabia is Iran’s main rival in the Middle East, though Prince Mohammed’s actions are roiling the region and unsettling the kingdom’s relationship with the United States.

On Monday morning, Mr. Pompeo left the Al Faisaliah Hotel in central Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, with a list of problems to discuss with Prince Mohammed and his father, King Salman.

The list included the killing by Saudi agents in October of Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken Saudi dissident who lived in Virginia; the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, a crucial military partner of the United States; and the Saudi-led air war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with many Yemenis starving.

The United States Embassy in Riyadh wrote on Twitter that Mr. Pompeo and Prince Mohammed agreed Monday on the “need for de-escalation and adherence” to agreements reached at peace talks in Sweden over the Yemen war.

The visit with Prince Mohammed on Monday was the first for Mr. Pompeo since an emergency trip in October, as the diplomatic crisis over the murder of Mr. Kashoggi was ballooning. In his previous visit, Mr. Pompeo flew to Riyadh and posed for photos in which he shook hands with the prince and smiled, and then came under intense criticism for the images of bonhomie.

At a news conference on Sunday in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mr. Pompeo said he would discuss the murder with Prince Mohammed and other officials to “make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable, certainly by the Saudis but by the United States as well where appropriate.”

Mr. Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit team while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, Turkish officials have said. The C.I.A. assessed that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.

President Trump has declined to endorse that finding and has said the United States would continue its relationship with Saudi Arabia and with the prince, who is close to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and main Middle East adviser.

Mr. Pompeo has supported that viewpoint but has also spoken on occasion of the need for accountability by the Saudis. Middle East experts working in the State Department have concluded that the Saudis have not met the threshold of accountability yet.

A Saudi court has begun trial proceedings for 11 suspects in the Khashoggi case, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of them. In October, the government said it had arrested 18 people, and it is unclear what has happened to the other seven.

The Saudi government has also removed a few senior officials from their posts, including Mr. Qahtani, the close associate of the prince who directed the kingdom’s social media efforts.

The prince has been the driver behind Saudi Arabia playing a leading role in both the Qatar blockade and the Yemen war.



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