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Pompeo Makes His First Overseas Trip As Secretary Of State


Mike Pompeo, the new secretary of state, made an observation over the weekend. Since being confirmed in the job last week, he'd been in Brussels, and Riyadh, and then Jerusalem and was on his way to Amman. He had traveled so much so quickly, he said, that I haven't been to my office yet. He's traveling days before President Trump makes a decision about Iran's nuclear program, a decision of interest to every capital Pompeo visited. NPR's Jane Arraf is watching all of this from Baghdad, and she's on the line.

Jane, what is Pompeo saying?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, a lot of what he's saying, Steve, is about Iran. He's hammering home that Iran is a major threat. In fact, destabilizing and malign is how he described their activities. So that's in line, of course, with President Trump's push against Iran, including that if this nuclear deal doesn't - if it isn't reworked to limit Iran's nuclear program, that the U.S. will pull out. Here's what he said about that during a press conference with Israel's prime minister.


MIKE POMPEO: President Trump's been pretty clear. This deal is very flawed. He's directed the administration to try and fix it. And if we can't fix it, he's going to withdraw from the deal. It's pretty straightforward.

ARRAF: Well, straightforward to Israel and Saudi Arabia, certainly, because they're completely on board with anything anti-Iran, pretty much. Jordan has reservations about Iran, as well, but it's a controversial topic.

INSKEEP: Well, Iran's supreme leader is talking about this today, we have learned - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who holds supreme power there. And in a speech, he's accusing the United States of trying to create a conflict in the region, quote, "to provoke inexperienced rulers of the region," which is a clear reference to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who's in his early 30s and has been confronting Iran more strongly, he feels, which does raise a question. Are U.S. allies ready for the risk of a wider confrontation with Iran if this deal does fall apart?

ARRAF: You know, I was in Riyadh for President Trump's first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia, which was essentially a love fest, and it was really striking how much Iran overshadows so much of the discourse in the region. So things weren't great with the previous Saudi ruler in terms of the Iranian influence in the region, but now there's a feeling that kind of all bets are off, that with the backing of the United States, Saudi Arabia feels empowered in many ways, including the war with Yemen that it gets U.S. military arms for. So that's where a lot of that concern is coming from in terms of Iran and some other countries.

INSKEEP: OK. So clearly, yes, they are ready for more confrontation with Iran, and we'll see what happens there. Jane, before I let you go, I want to ask briefly about one other thing. You are in Baghdad, a capital that Pompeo did not make on this trip. But it's - you're in one of the countries where the U.S. has been confronting ISIS. How's the war against ISIS going?

ARRAF: Well, according to the Iraqis, it's going wonderfully because they've pushed ISIS out pretty much beyond their borders and in a large sense. That's with the U.S. backing. So ISIS is out of the cities, but there's still a fear here that it could regroup. And still, certainly, it has a military presence along the border with Saudi Arabia. Now, Pompeo didn't come here perhaps because there is an election campaign in full swing. But when he does come here, what he'll likely hear is that there's a fear that all of this focus on Iran - and Iran is an ally, as is the U.S., of Iraq's - that's taking the focus away from the fight against ISIS. And they feel here that that still very much needs to be fought.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much, as always. That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.