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Pompeo takes aim at two favorite targets — Iran and Obama — in Cairo speech

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

CAIRO -- Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo used a keynote address in the Egyptian capital Thursday to take aim at two favorite targets -- Iran and former President Barack Obama -- as he sought to reassure Middle East allies of Washington's commitment to the region.

"In just 24 months, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region, because we've learned from our mistakes," Pompeo said in an address at Cairo's American University.

"We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships."

Pompeo is on a nine-nation swing through the Middle East and the Persian Gulf to allay allies' concerns after Trump abruptly announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

Many in the region fear the U.S. disengagement will bolster Iran, which has gained territory in Syria in what enemies like Israel and Saudi Arabia see as a growing threat.

Ahead of the speech, Pompeo met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whom he praised as firm partners in fighting terrorism.

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Egypt is one of the top recipients of U.S. aid, including the sale of tons of armaments. Under el-Sissi, however, Egypt also has one of the most egregious human rights records in the region, with hundreds of dissidents killed and thousands jailed.

Speaking briefly to reporters, Pompeo sidestepped the issue of human rights, saying he had raised the "panoply" of concerns but declined to criticize the Egyptian government or enter into specifics.

El-Sissi is one of the autocratic strongmen for whom Trump has expressed unabashed admiration.

Since Trump last year withdrew the United States from the landmark Iran nuclear deal, the administration has not hesitated to portray the Islamic Republic as the world's most evil proponent of terrorism. Pompeo on Thursday said Iran was the "greatest threat of all in the Middle East."

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