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Pompeo To Outline U.S.' Middle East Policy During Speech In Egypt


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the Middle East this week trying to reassure allies that the U.S. remains committed to the region. Speaking at the American University in Cairo, he criticized the Obama administration's policies in the region.


MIKE POMPEO: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning.

MARTIN: He's referring there to President Obama's own Cairo speech from 2009 which was meant to reach out to the Muslim world in the wake of the U.S. response to 9/11. NPR's Jane Arraf is on the line from Baghdad, where she's been monitoring all of this. Jane, what were the big takeaways from Secretary Pompeo's speech?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Oh, gosh, where to start? A lot of it was about Iran - a lot of tough words on Iran. Calling them a cancerous influence in the region was, you know, one of the mildest things he said. He basically focused on what the U.S. was doing about Iran essentially, as he put it, to fix what the previous administration had not done to create what he calls this mess.

There's the Middle East peace process. The U.S. of course - the administration has promised a peace agreement somewhere down the line. Ten years ago, (inaudible) Palestinians and their legitimate aspirations and said their situation was intolerable. Pompeo celebrated the (inaudible) - Israeli national anthem played at a judo championship as an example of things - how things were becoming normalized. And a lot of it really was just to draw a difference between the previous administrations and how they see the region and the Muslim world.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, it's not a coincidence that he chose to deliver this speech from Cairo because Republicans - ever since Obama gave that speech, Republicans have been criticizing Barack Obama, calling it an apologist tour when he was trying to reach out to the Muslim world.

ARRAF: Yeah, and Pompeo went even further. He talked about what he called fundamental misunderstandings 10 years ago as adversely affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Egypt and across the region. That's a pretty sweeping accusation. He lays a lot of the blame to openness to Islam and a misunderstanding, he says, of the history. And essentially he blamed the Obama administration for a lot of the things that the U.S. was facing now. But while he says that there is a way forward, he was very short on specifics on that.

MARTIN: Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is likely to be happy with Pompeo's remarks. What about other leaders in the region?

ARRAF: Yes, Sissi is likely to be quite thrilled at Pompeo praising his courage. Sissi is fighting a very opaque war against ISIS in his own country. Other people in the region - you know, this is a new era, and part of that new era is a belief that the United States is more than willing to look the other way to repression and human rights abuses in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia if there are security or economic benefits.

But also, Pompeo was playing to his own base. He mentioned straight off he was an - sorry - evangelical Christian, and he talked about abandoning Christians under previous administrations. So there was a lot in that speech but a lot of it also aimed at his base.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf from Baghdad, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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