Pompeo kicks off Mideast leg of first trip as top US envoy

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PV International Desk : U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, the start of a Middle East visit that officials said he would use to call on European and other nations to impose further sanctions against Iran.

Pompeo reached the Saudi capital shortly after Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen said they had fired eight ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia’s southern city of Jizan.

The Saudi civil defense directorate said one person had been killed by shrapnel from the attack, which damaged two houses. It said four missiles had been intercepted by the kingdom’s air defense forces.

Senior U.S. officials traveling with Pompeo blamed Iran for smuggling the missiles into Yemen. They said the incident underscored the importance of the Trump administration’s push to counter Iranian supported-aggression in the region. Iran has backed the Houthi rebellion in Yemen and is helping Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government fight rebels.

Pompeo planned talks with the Saudi king, crown prince and foreign minister just weeks ahead of several key dates that could further roil the volatile region. After leaving Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Pompeo will fly to Israel and Jordan before ending his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat.

The officials said Iran’s long- and medium-range missile programs had to be countered as part of efforts to strengthen the Iran nuclear deal, from which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw.

The officials said Pompeo would call on other nations to impose tougher sanctions against Iranian people, businesses and government agencies involved in missile development. They said he’d also stress the U.S. commitment to the defense of Saudi Arabia, Israel and other friends and partners in the region.

The officials traveling with Pompeo said the secretary would also raise Trump’s concern about the festering dispute between Qatar on one side and its Gulf Cooperation Council partners Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on the other.

The dispute, the officials said, is hampering unified efforts to confront Iran’s increasing assertiveness and giving Iran room to expand its influence.