Pompeo seeks support from allies to monitor Persian Gulf amid tensions with Iran
By CAROL MORELLO | The Washington Post | Published: June 24, 2019
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday began recruiting allies to help outfit tankers and other ships in the Persian Gulf region with cameras that can monitor and corroborate threats from Iran.
A new program, called Sentinel, is being developed as a response to the dueling accounts that have arisen after Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week. Iran said the unmanned aircraft was in Iranian airspace, but the United States said it was in international airspace. Both countries provided coordinates to make their case and accused the other of lying.
Under the Sentinel program, ships traversing through the Strait of Hormuz would be provided cameras and other monitoring devices. Some also would be escorted by other ships, both military and commercial.
"This is having eyes on," said a senior State Department official, briefing reporters flying with Pompeo after his meetings in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"So it's not about shooting at people. It's about shooting pictures of Iranians. It's about proactive deterrents because Iranians just want to go out and do what they want to do and say, 'Hey, we didn't do it.' We know what they've done," Pompeo said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the first two stops on Pompeo's week-long trip to the Middle East and Asia. The Saudis are the first to sign on to the plan, and the United States intends to seek material and financial contributions from other allies in coming weeks.
Though the United States would lead the coalition, it is not clear whether it would provide escort ships, or how many.
As Pompeo sought to rally support, President Donald Trump lamented on Twitter that the United States was "protecting the shipping lanes" in the strait "for other countries . . . for zero compensation."
It was unclear whether his sentiments reflected the conversations that U.S. diplomats were having with allies in the region.
The coalition envisioned by the State Department and Pentagon, which are developing Sentinel together, is made up of "all sorts of nations that want to preserve the freedom of navigation in what is the world's most important shipping way," the official said.
Pompeo was expected to meet Monday night with Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, another archrival of Iran.
According to a State Department readout of Pompeo's talks in Jiddah, the secretary talked with both the Saudi king and the crown prince about the need for maritime security to ensure free navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. They also discussed ways to counter Iran's influence in the region and hold it accountable.
Pompeo was accompanied by several aides when he met with the king. But Pompeo and the prince had lunch together at a Jiddah restaurant with no aides joining them, so it was not immediately clear whether they discussed other issues.
Pompeo's visit to Saudi Arabia came one day after Houthi rebels allied with Iran fired a drone attack from Yemen on the Saudi airport in Abha. One person was reported killed, and 22 were wounded.
Pompeo cited the attack as a prime example of Iran's malign influence in the region.
"With every attack conducted by an Iranian proxy, the regime tacks another day onto its 40-year track record of spreading death and chaos in the region, and beyond," Pompeo said in a statement.