Mike Pompeo has arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks as he seeks to promote an anti-Iran alliance at a time of mounting tensions in the region, the Guardian reports.
The US secretary of state, considered a hardliner on Iran, is expected to meet King Salman and the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in Jeddah before flying to the United Arab Emirates for further discussions.
Before his departure, Pompeo said the two countries were “great allies in the challenge that Iran presents”. He added: “We’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition.”
He also reiterated Donald Trump’s offer of dialogue to improve relations with Iran, which the US administration has sought to isolate economically. “We’re prepared to negotiate with no preconditions. They know precisely how to find us,” Pompeo said.
Tensions have been mounting since Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal last year and began applying pressure on Tehran through economic sanctions.
A fresh round of sanctions is to be announced on Monday in an attempt to force the Iranian leadership to hold talks with the US. A near-total ban on oil exports is already in place and Iran has said it will not enter into discussions until sanctions are lifted.
Last week, the US pulled back from the brink of a military confrontation with Iran after Trump called off strikes ordered in retaliation for the shooting down of a US drone.
On Sunday, the US national security adviser, John Bolton, said Tehran should not “mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness”.
A drone strike on an airport in Saudi Arabia by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels, which left one person dead and 21 injured, will have coloured the mood among Gulf states. It follows another attack on 12 June.
A weekend meeting in London of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and the US ended with a joint statement accusing the Houthis of escalating attacks into Saudi Arabia using “Iranian-made and facilitated missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles”.
The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the UK was focused on de-escalating the dispute and refused to comment directly on claims that London had not been consulted before Trump sanctioned and then cancelled the planned strike on Iran on Thursday. Hunt said the UK had the closest possible intelligence relationship with the US.
From Thursday, Iran is expected to exceed the limits for stockpiles on enriched uranium set out in the 2015 nuclear deal, which will lead to the US pressing Europe to abandon the agreement.
The UK, together with France and Germany, is urging Tehran to wait for European countries to set up the much-delayed financial mechanism designed to help businesses in Europe trade with Iran, circumventing secondary US sanctions. Iran saw an increase in trade as one of the key benefits of the deal.