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Pompeo Meets With Saudi Leaders About Iran, Economy, Human Rights

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on February 19.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh for talk focused on security concerns about Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran.

He also visited the Prince Sultan Air Base where a few thousand U.S. troops are deployed as part of a wider effort to counter Iran’s regional reach.

Ahead of his arrival late on February 19 in the Saudi capital, Pompeo said he would also raise concerns with the Saudi leadership about Saudi Arabia's human rights record -- including cases of Saudi-U.S. citizens who are either imprisoned in Saudi Arabia or barred from traveling abroad.

State Department officials said that Pompeo also planned to meet with King Salman's son, the powerful Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan.

"We'll spend a lot of time talking about the security issues with the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran in particular," Pompeo said on February 19.

At the air base, Pompeo said the U.S. military there was defensive in nature and acts as a deterrent against Iran "to deliver us to a place where I, as secretary of state, can get the diplomatic outcome that the president is seeking."

Washington and Tehran have been at loggerheads and have come close to open warfare since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear accord and began reimposing financial sanctions on Iran.

Riyadh has been a strong ally of Washington in its disputes with Iran. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia competes for influence in the Middle East with Shi’ite-led Iran.

'Historical Pattern'

Pompeo's visit to Riyadh comes a day after the U.S. military said Iran continues to send "advanced weapons" to Yemen’s Huthi rebels as part of their fight against the Saudi-backed government in the war-torn nation, following a second interception in less than three months of what Washington said were Iranian arms.

"The [latest] seizure is consistent with a historical pattern of Iranian smuggling of advanced weapons to the Huthis in Yemen," Captain Bill Urban of U.S. Central Command -- which is responsible for U.S. forces in the Middle East -- told a briefing at the Pentagon on February 19.

Iran denies supplying the mainly Shi’ite Huthi rebels with arms, despite evidence displayed by U.S. and Saudi officials that it does.

Urban said Washington believes that Iran has been providing weapons to the Huthi rebels for the last five years, which he said has helped prolong the deadly conflict.

He displayed photos of the seized weapons and said they came from Iran and were intended for the Huthis.

He said the USS Normandy on February 9 found 150 "Dhelavieh," Iranian-made copies of the Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missile and three Iranian-designed and manufactured surface-to-air missiles.

Yemen's internationally recognized government, which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition, has been involved in a protracted war with Huthi forces since 2014.

The rebels have seized much of the nation's northwest and its capital, Sanaa, in the war that has killed more than 10,000 people and created a humanitarian nightmare in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Pompeo has said Washington was "prepared to talk anytime" to Tehran but stressed that the Iranians must "fundamentally change their behavior."

With reporting by AFP, Stars & Stripes, Reuters, and The New York Times
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