U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the Middle East for regional security talks as Washington looks to draw new support in its opposition to Iranian aggression.
Pompeo began is trip in Kuwait late Tuesday and headed to Israel Wednesday. His trip will also take him to Lebanon.
In Israel, Pompeo is due to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government is headed to a tough April 9 re-election contest as Netanyahu is embroiled in a corruption investigation and facing allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Pompeo, in comments to reporters en route to the Middle East, dismissed the suggestion that his meeting with Netanyahu could be seen as the U.S. intruding in the Israeli election in support of Netanyahu.
A senior State Department official said last week that Pompeo would not be meeting with Netanyahu’s opponents, but Netanyahu alone as the current head of the Israeli government.
Netanyahu is visiting Washington next week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful Jewish lobbying group in the United States, and also could meet with President Donald Trump.
Pompeo said the recent U.S. shift away from terminology describing the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights as “Israeli-occupied” to that of “controlled” by the Jewish state was not accidental.
He said that the characterization in a recent State Department report on human rights around the world about Israeli control of the disputed territories “was a factual statement about how we observe the situation. And we think it’s very accurate, and we stand behind it.”
Pompeo said that on his third stop, in Beirut, “we’ll spend a lot of time talking with the Lebanese government about how we can help them disconnect from the threat that Iran and Hezbollah present to them.”
The United States considers Hezbollah, a militant Islamist political group, as a pro-Iranian “terrorist” organization, even though it is represented in the coalition government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a U.S. ally.
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Photo “Tehran, Iran” by David Stanley. CC BY 2.0.