WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton are hoping their trips to the Middle East can help shore up support from America’s partners amid increasing tensions in the region.
In his first Mideast visit since President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Pompeo will stop in eight countries, starting with Jordan on Wednesday, the State Department said. Bolton planned to depart Friday for Israel and Turkey, his spokesman said.
The Syria decision, which led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the U.S. special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, Brett McGurk, is expected to dominate the officials’ agenda, along with the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran, the conflict in Yemen and the situation in Iraq.
The State Department announced Friday that veteran diplomat Jim Jeffrey, who has been serving since August as the special representative for Syrian engagement, would assume McGurk’s anti-Islamic State duties.
The Trump-ordered withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria was initially expected to be completed within weeks, but has been slowed as the president has acceded to requests from aides, allies and members of Congress for a more orderly pullout. The U.S. drawdown is feared to clear the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria who have fought alongside American troops against the Islamic State group.
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview Pompeo’s trip, said the secretary’s aim was to counter “false narratives” that the U.S. is abandoning the Middle East and to make the point that Iran continues to be a threat. “We are not going anywhere,” the official said.
In addition to Jordan, Pompeo plans stops in Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. The U.S. hopes each country will play a significant role in a planned regional strategic partnership being called an “Arab NATO.”