Pompeo says downgrading U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia would be mistake

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that downgrading U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.

Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis were briefing the U.S. Senate behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia and the Oct. 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as the civil war in Yemen.

“The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies,” Pompeo wrote in a blog post shortly before the briefing for U.S. senators.

Pompeo made the case that the Saudis are too important an ally to lose, citing its help to contain Iran in the region, secure democracy in Iraq and fight the Islamic State and other militant groups.

“The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Saudi Arabia, like the U.S. – and unlike these critics – recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world.”

Pompeo also said the United States would provide an additional $131 million for food aide in Yemen.

The nearly four-year long war in Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, is seen as a proxy war between Saudia Arabia and Iran.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot

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