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US considering “safe-zone” in north-east Syria

The US are preparing a proposal to establish a “safe zone” in north-east Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday before leaving Saudi Arabia for Oman on the last stop in his Middle East tour.

“We want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to down the (Islamic State group) have security … and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey. We want a secure border for all the parties,” Pompeo told reporters. He added that talks are under way in Washington to finalise the proposed “safe zone”.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, President Donald Trump suggested that a 20-mile safe zone could be created to decrease tension between Turkey and the Kurds, a group that’s been a critical US partner in the fight against ISIS but which Ankara views as terrorists.

At a news conference Pompeo said that he pressed Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince on a range of issues. He said that both Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman, acknowledged in separate meetings that the Saudi Government needed to show accountability for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the same time, he reaffirmed the two nations’ shared goal of opposing Iranian policies in the Middle East.

When questioned by a reporter about Mohammed bin Salman’s foreign policy decision-making, Pompeo said that Saudi Arabia’s “leaders are going to act in their country’s interests … the same way mine is to act in America’s best interest”. He confirmed that he raised concerns to the Crown Prince over the imprisonment of women’s rights activists in the country. “Their commitment was that the process, the lawful judicial process here, would take place. They understand the concerns that some have” he said.

The US Embassy in Riyadh said Pompeo and Mohammed bin Salman agreed on the “need for de-escalation and adherence” to agreements reached at peace talks in Sweden over the Yemen war.

Pompeo travelled to Saudi Arabia as part of a broader Middle East tour that has already taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE. He cancelled plans to wrap up the trip in Kuwait on Tuesday, due to a family bereavement.