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Pompeo Meets With Saudi Crown Prince During Diplomatic Tour


We begin this hour in a hotter part of the world. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the middle of a diplomatic tour of the Middle East, including later today Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with the Saudi crown prince. That meeting will be getting a lot of scrutiny after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which prompted a Senate resolution condemning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. NPR's diplomatic correspondent, Michele Kelemen, is traveling with Secretary Pompeo, and she joins us now from Doha, Qatar. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does Pompeo have planned for the Saudi portion of this trip?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean, so far we know that he's really continuing this message that he's giving to the region. He wants countries to be working together. He's kind of promoting this idea of an Arab NATO. He wants people focused on the fight against ISIS, promoting energy security and, most of all, countering Iran.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we get to Iran, has Pompeo said how he'll address the killing of Khashoggi with the crown prince? The Trump administration has been eager to move on from that.

KELEMEN: Yes, they have. I mean, he said that he's going to talk to the crown prince and make sure there's a full and complete accounting of what he called an unacceptable murder. You know, I'm not sure how much Secretary Pompeo is really going to push that in his meetings, though. You know, we didn't hear much from him when I was with him in Saudi Arabia in October, soon after Khashoggi was killed. He was quite tight-lipped. And the first news we had of his meeting with Mohammed bin Salman was when President Trump wrote on Twitter that he had just spoke to the crown prince, who was - totally denied that he had any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. And he pointed out that Mohammed bin Salman was with Pompeo when Trump was talking to him on the phone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that Pompeo, as you mentioned, has been trying to do is drum up support for further action against Iran. But at this moment, Saudi Arabia looks like the more problematic actor in the region with Khashoggi and the war in Yemen. So what is Pompeo's ask in Riyadh? What is he trying to accomplish?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, he doesn't see things that way. I mean, he definitely - he gave this speech in Cairo where he kind of laid out this very different view of the Middle East where he sees, you know, countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which - he's visited all of them this week - as these sources of stability. And he sees Iran as the main source of instability in the region. Here in Qatar, he's been trying to resolve the Qatar-Saudi split. And just this week, the U.S. envoy that was dealing with that issue quit.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent, Michele Kelemen. Michele, thank you so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. 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.