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Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Embarks On Reassurance Trip To Middle East


The Trump administration is promising to coordinate with partners as it withdraws from Syria. It's not an easy task. Turkey's president snubbed national security adviser John Bolton today while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a week-long reassurance tour in the Middle East. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Pompeo's first stop is Jordan, a country that borders Syria and houses hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The secretary of state calls Jordan a durable partner, adding that he doesn't think a change in the U.S. tactics in Syria should affect the U.S.-led coalition's fight against ISIS.

MIKE POMPEO: There is enormous agreement on the risk that that poses to Jordan and to other countries in the neighborhood. And that battle continues. Our - the president's decision to withdraw our folks from Syria in no way impacts our capacity to deliver on that.

KELEMEN: Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, says he's counting on close coordination with the U.S., especially in sensitive border areas.


AYMAN SAFADI: We've always coordinated, and we trust that we will continue to coordinate. And our security is something that has always been taken into account by our allies in Washington. This is a solid partnership, particularly when it comes to defense and security against ISIS.

KELEMEN: While Jordan and the U.S. tried to get on the same page, Turkey's president was railing against Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton. Bolton had warned Turkey not to mistreat Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists but who help the U.S. battle ISIS in northern Syria. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Bolton of making a serious mistake by demanding such concessions. Pompeo has been far more careful in public not to talk about timelines for a troop withdrawal or any conditions for it. Speaking to reporters on his plane on the way here, he denied that Bolton and Trump are giving mixed messages.

POMPEO: The president said we're going to do it in an orderly fashion that achieves our objective and that the - our mission set in the region remains unchanged. Those seem pretty consistent to me.

KELEMEN: The mission is not just about countering ISIS. It's about building up pressure on Iran. That will be a major theme as Pompeo continues his swing through the Middle East. He was promising this at his news conference here in Jordan.

POMPEO: And you'll see in the coming days and weeks, we are redoubling not only our diplomatic but our commercial efforts to put real pressure on Iran.

KELEMEN: He's going to be visiting Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries. In Riyadh, his aides say he will also press the Saudis to establish a, quote, "credible narrative" about the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and hold those responsible to account. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Amman, Jordan.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOMBA ESTEREO'S "TAMBORA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.