The Trump administration pressed ahead with plans to create an “Arab NATO” that would unite U.S. partners in the Middle East in an anti-Iran alliance.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in New York with foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to advance the project. The State Department said Pompeo had stressed the need to defeat the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations as well ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, securing Iraq and “stopping Iran’s malign activity in the region.”
“All participants agreed on the need to confront threats from Iran directed at the region and the United States,” the department said in a statement. It added that the ministers had “productive discussions” on setting up what is to be known as the “Middle East Strategic Alliance” to promote security and stability in the region.
The statement gave no timeframe for establishing the alliance but said Pompeo would continue to work on it in the coming weeks and months.
Progress on creating the bloc has been hampered by an unresolved dispute between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the U.A.E. and Qatar that has split the membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Saudis and Emiratis accuse Qatar of not doing enough to fight extremism, financing terrorism in some cases and getting too close to Iran. Qatar denies the charges.
Since June 2017, the Saudis, Emiratis and Bahrain, along with Egypt, have been boycotting Qatar and demanding that it limit its diplomatic ties with Iran, shut down the state-funded Al-Jazeera news network, and sever ties to “terrorist organizations” such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Mediation by Kuwait and the United States has failed to end the dispute, which U.S. officials have warned could affect the fight against the Islamic State.
he Pentagon will remove four batteries of PAC-3 Patriot missiles from three Middle-Eastern countries, according to the Wall Street Journal. The report said the missiles are needed elsewhere to counter China and Russia.
Sources said Jordan and Bahrain will lose one battery of US long-range anti-aircraft missiles next month, while Kuwait will part with two. The systems are not meant to be replaced, so the withdrawal would permanently reduce the defensive capabilities of the three nations. The systems are already offline and are being prepared to be moved, a military source told the WSJ.
Some systems will remain in the region, but officials said the removals are a major drawdown, according to the report.
All three countries where Patriot systems are being removed house U.S. troops. Bahrain contains the naval base where the Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf and Middle East, is homeported, while thousands of personnel are deployed in Kuwait and some special forces operate in Jordan.
The report would not disclose where the Patriot missiles would be redeployed, but said it was part of the Pentagon’s strategy of changing focus from the Middle East towards China and Russia, which were named as the main threats to US global interests in the Trump administration’s defense strategy review.
The MIM-104 Patriot is the US counterpart to the Russian S-300 and S-400 systems. Currently in its PAC-3 version, the long-range air-defense system is used to defend strategic locations from enemy aircraft and missiles. Ironically, the US move was announced just as Russia decided to supply the S-300 system to the Syrian government, after the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by outdated Syrian air-defense forces during an Israeli air raid.
Responding to the report, the Kuwaiti military downplayed the Pentagon’s decision, saying their own long-range air-defense systems – the same Patriot missiles bought from the US – would be enough to protect the nation.
Washington regularly uses the deployment of advanced weapon systems to allied nations as a bargaining chip, where those countries wish to boost their defenses. For instance, in early 2013, the US, Germany and the Netherlands deployed their Patriot batteries to Turkey, as Ankara complained about a threat posed by the war in neighboring Syria.
Turkey didn’t have a developed national air-defense system at the time and was selecting which long-range SAMs to buy, with American, European and Chinese producers competing for the contract.
As Turkey’s relations with its American and European allies soured over the years, the initial arms providers pulled out their assets, with Spain and Italy stepping in. The falling-out was also reflected in Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 system rather than one produced by a NATO member, despite objections from Washington.
The Pentagon recently announced a reduction in forces that comes on the heels of Donald Trump accusing OPEC’s Middle East producers of “pushing for higher and higher oil prices.”
Oil prices showed a mixed reaction to Trump’s words. The Brent benchmark fell 43 cents to $78.97 per barrel, while the US Texas Intermediate grew 9 cents to $71.21.
This is not the first time Trump has attacked OPEC and blamed it for high oil prices. Asked by Fox on July 1 if someone was manipulating oil markets, Trump said: “OPEC is and they better stop it because we’re protecting those countries, many of those countries.” In a follow-up Tweet on July 4, the president said that “the United States defends many of those countries for very little $’s.”
Trump, who is a proponent of cheap crude, has told OPEC countries they would not be safe for long without the US.
If #American #Military has to risk their lives to keep #OPEC nations stable & safe, the very least they can do is to match our expenses with same value of oil. We scratch their back, they scratch ours. Then it all comes out even & true fair trade of services for goods. pic.twitter.com/xFd24pdvhO
— overpasses4America (@o4america) September 20, 2018
Why does Trump so badly want low oil prices?
De-facto OPEC leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia have an agreement to curb oil production. The kingdom, its Gulf allies and Russia have recently agreed to lift production by about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) to offset losses from Venezuela and Iran, but not more. This keeps oil no lower than $75 per barrel.
As oil prices remain high, prices for gasoline in the US are growing. The average cost of gasoline has risen 60 percent from $1.87 per gallon in February 2016 to over $3 in September.
Higher oil prices have boosted economies of producing states North Dakota, Texas and others.
“But most of those states are solidly Republican and likely to vote for Trump’s party at the mid-term congressional elections in 2018,” said John Kemp, a Reuters market analyst. “The president, therefore, is paying much closer attention to the harmful impact of higher oil and gasoline prices on consumers in swing states.”
One of the largest factors for the oil price surge is Trump’s sanctions war against Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, analysts have said. As Iran oil sales decline, the supply goes down, and prices grow.
Does the US really protect the Middle East?
The psychopathic Islamic regime in Iran is not the only country in the Middle East which might find Trump’s so-called protection claim questionable.
Trump has said several times that without the US, OPEC countries would not be safe. OPEC nation Libya would surely doubt that after Hillary Clinton ordered a 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya to oust the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, fueled a major conflict which took the lives of thousands of civilians, and created the Islamic State in the process. In the war, Libya lost more than half of its 1.6 million barrels per day in oil production, something which still hasn’t returned to 1 million.
OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, Iraq, suffered a US military invasion in 2003, when America should have been invading Mexico for being the actual threat to the United States. Iran and Venezuela are under tough US sanctions which have slashed their oil exports and triggered a currency crisis.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 28th, 2018