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Diplomatic, humanitarian effort hailed

Ambassador Lawrence Silverman gestures during the press conference

KUWAIT CITY, Jan 14: US Ambassador to Kuwait, Lawrence R. Silverman held a press roundtable at the US Embassy to discuss the upcoming visit of US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo to Kuwait, and the Third US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue taking place in Kuwait on Jan 15. “This is an extraordinary visit to all of the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. It shows the importance of this region to the US.”

“The President and Secretary appreciate the diplomatic and humanitarian efforts of HH the Amir and the government of Kuwait. Kuwait does not need to do what it does in this regard but it is not only the right thing to do but also a very strong investment in the stability of the region and we appreciate that”, Ambassador Silverman remarked. He added that it is no accident that a comprehensive visit like this taking place and pointed to President Trump’s first overseas visit to Riyadh for a USGCC summit as an indicator of the importance of the region to the US. He informed that US Secretary of State Pompeo has carried three main overarching messages on his tour, “One, is that we are very busy and engaged in the Middle East and in the Gulf, second to talk about the negative, malign activities of Iran and third, to find solutions to regional conflicts such as the crisis in Yemen.”

He affirmed that the unity of the GCC is extremely important to the US and to meeting the challenges of the region including those posed by Iran. When questioned on the recent resignation of Retired General Anthony Zinni, the Trump administration’s envoy working to resolve the Gulf region’s diplomatic dispute, from his role at the State Department, Ambassador Silverman shared that the decision was a personal move but the resignation will have no impact as US efforts and the high priority it places on finding a solution to the dispute remain unchanged.

He expressed the US government’s keenness to host a GCC Summit in the US in the first part of the year to discuss important issues such as fighting terrorism, stopping terrorism financing, defense against ballistic missiles, economic and trade relations and reiterated Secretary Pompeo remarks made in the UAE for the need for GCC unity as part of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), proposed by the US. He stressed that the Strategic Dialogues held between the two countries are not just a meeting but a process.

Apart from being a platform to discuss the most important regional issues, it also includes a yearlong agenda and working groups for the purpose of strengthening bilateral relations in areas of defense and security including military procurement and training, trade and investment, education, and travel.

He informed that a private economic forum organized by the US and Kuwaiti Chambers of Commerce will be held on Jan 14 to focus on trade and investment between the two countries. Ambassador Silverman also pointed to the resumption of the Kuwait Airways direct fl ights between Kuwait City and New York City as a result of the coordination between the two governments. He stated that the US has worked with all elements of the Kuwaiti government and Kuwait Airways on airport security over the last couple of years and drew attention to the joint statements from the first and second strategic dialogues held in October 2016 and September 2017 that recognize progress made in the area of airport security. He shared that Kuwait had been invited to the Warsaw Middle East Summit and that the US hoped for maximum attendance. “The subject of Iran will be part of the conference with the hope that it would lead to ideas to help change the behavior of the Iranian regime but there are other areas to be discussed such as Middle East peace and security and different members will bring to the table what they want to discuss.”

Speaking on the effectiveness of the US Sanctions on Iran, he stated that imposing sanctions cannot be likened to a light-switch in which case the reaction to an action is seen immediately. He shared that sanctions are at the beginning stage and over time Iran will have fewer resources to use. He referred to the drop in oil exports from 2.7 million barrels per day to less than 1 million per day towards the end of the year.

Furthermore, 100 private sector companies have withdrawn or ceased business with Iran. He expressed his hope that Iran would consider the consequences of the economic implications of sanctions and make policy changes in the best interest of its economy and people. Commenting on the process of US withdrawing forces from Syria, Ambassador Silverman stressed that the decision to withdraw gradually over time is a tactical measure and not a strategic step.

“Our strategy with respect to Syria remains as it is – the lasting defeat of DAESH. We have had great success against the Caliphate of DAESH, we are continuing our efforts against DAESH to destroy any remaining elements and to help ensure that DAESH does not return.” He added, “We want to see, as well, the removal of Iran-commanded forces in Syria, and a political solution that will actually bring stability to Syria according to the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015).”

Pompeo said on Sunday that a rift between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors had gone on for too long and was threatening regional unity needed to counter Iran. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member Egypt cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their regional foe Shi’ite Muslim Iran – something Doha denies.

The United States, an ally of the sixnation Sunni Muslim GCC, sees the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran and has pushed for a united Gulf front. “When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful,” Pompeo, who is on an eight-day tour of the Middle East, told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha. “They never permit you to have as robust a response to common adversaries or common challenges as you might,” he added. Gas-rich Qatar says the boycott is aimed at undermining its sovereignty and has started charting a course away from its Gulf neighbors, including forging new trade partnerships, strengthening its ties with Turkey and quitting OPEC.

Those moves have deepened expectations that the row will not be resolved quickly. “We’re hoping that the unity of GCC will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead,” Pompeo said, adding that Gulf unity was essential for a planned Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) that would also include Jordan and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have repeatedly said the dispute is not a top priority and assured Washington it will not affect defense cooperation. Pompeo later told reporters that he had brought up the rift with officials in Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.

“It’s … not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved Sunday than it was Saturday and I regret that,” he said. Pompeo has used the regional tour, which included stops in Abu Dhabi and Cairo, to shore up support for the US troop withdrawal from Syria. He will head next to the Saudi capital Riyadh, where he said the United States would ensure there is “full and complete” accountability on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi US-based Washington Post journalist from Saudi Arabia. “We will continue to talk about that and make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable certainly by the Saudis but by the US as well where appropriate,” Pompeo told the news conference.

Khashoggi, a long-time royal insider who had become a critic of the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2.

US intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered an operation to kill Khashoggi, whose body was dismembered and removed from the building to a location still publicly unknown. Top Turkish officials have also tied his death to the highest levels of Saudi leadership. Saudi officials have denied accusations that the prince ordered the murder, which has left the Kingdom facing its worst political crisis in generations, strained ties with Western allies and focused attention on the prince’s domestic crackdown on dissent and the war in Yemen. The sister of Loujain al-Hathloul, one of several Saudi women’s rights activists detained in the Kingdom since last summer and accused of treason, pressed Pompeo to raise the issue with officials in Riyadh.

In a New York Times op-ed, Alia al- Hathloul described how her sister was allegedly tortured and threatened while in detention. “Even today, I am torn about writing about Loujain, scared that speaking about her ordeal might harm her,” she wrote. The Saudi authorities have denied such torture charges

By Cinatra Alvares Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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