Secretary Of State Pompeo Meets With Top Officials In Iraq
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Iraq today, part of an extensive trip around the Middle East. He's spending a lot of time trying to reassure allies that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria won't change the U.S. mission in the region. Pompeo and his entourage are now in Cairo, along with NPR's Michele Kelemen. We have a little delay on the line. Can you hear me, Michele?
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yes, I can, Audie.
CORNISH: So, first, tell us about Pompeo's day in Iraq.
KELEMEN: Sure. The visit came just, you know, a couple of weeks after Trump visited troops but didn't take the time to meet Iraq's prime minister, so Pompeo seemed to be making up for that. Security was really tight because - in part because the White House had previously announced that he was going to go. They said January 11. The State Department changed the date around and tried to keep a tight lid on things, only bringing in a much smaller pool of journalists into the visit. But he really did make the rounds. You know, he met with Iraq's prime minister and president, and then he flew to the Kurdish region up north. They talked about continuing the fight against ISIS, about Iraq's relationship with Iran. You know, the U.S. wants Iran to wean itself off - wants Iraq to wean itself off Iranian energy supplies.
CORNISH: I want to focus on Syria for a minute because it's the question that's hanging over this whole trip, right? Turkey's president yesterday rejected U.S. calls to protect Kurdish fighters who fought against ISIS in Syria. How did Pompeo address that when he met Kurds in northern Iraq?
KELEMEN: You know, he was really trying to downplay that dispute with Turkey. Turkey sees the Kurds as terrorists, but they've been partners for the U.S. in northern Syria. So take a listen to what Pompeo had to say when he was in the Kurdish area in Irbil today.
MIKE POMPEO: These have been folks that have fought with us, and it's important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected. And Erdogan has made commitments. He understands that - I think he uses the language - he talks about - I mean, he has no beef with the Kurds. And we want to make sure that that's the case. And I'm confident that as Ambassador Jeffreys (ph) and others travel through the region in the days ahead, we'll make real progress on that.
KELEMEN: So he was talking there about his envoy on Syria, Jim Jeffrey, who's staying on the job and working this issue.
CORNISH: And now Pompeo is there in Cairo. What's planned in Egypt?
KELEMEN: Well, he's giving a big speech tomorrow. I'm expecting to hear a lot about Iran. He often criticizes the previous administration for putting too much emphasis on the nuclear negotiations with Iran and not enough on everything else Iran does. So expect to hear him continue with those themes. And remember, Audie, it was in Cairo where President Obama outlined his approach to the Muslim world back in 2009. Pompeo's trying to draw a sharp distinction from - with this administration's approach.
CORNISH: Egypt's president, though, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is blamed for jailing thousands of activists and others who are just suspected of speaking out. So should Sissi and Pompeo meet, do you expect Pompeo to talk about this.
KELEMEN: Well, Pompeo may raise those concerns. I'm not expecting him to push too hard. His State Department has actually been praising Sissi recently on something else, that is on religious freedoms and support for Christians in Egypt. So I'm expecting to hear a bit more about that. And by the way, he's also going to be visiting other Arab partners with very poor human rights records this week, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
CORNISH: Michele, thank you.
KELEMEN: Thank you.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Cairo with the secretary of state. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.