By The Associated Press
Reactions in the Middle East on Wednesday (March 14) to the firing of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reflect the volatile divide between Iran, where many fear his departure heralds the demise of the 2015 nuclear deal, and Gulf Arab nations hoping for a more hawkish U.S. stance toward Tehran and Qatar.
Iran’s daily Javan newspaper, believed to be close to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said that replacing Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo signaled the end of the nuclear deal.
President Donald Trump’s appointment of Pompeo places an ardent foe of the deal in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the administration debates whether to withdraw from the agreement. Tillerson had pushed Trump to remain, and had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment the Obama-era deal.
“For quitting the deal, his dumping was necessary,” Javan said.
That was echoed by Ali Khorram, a former Iranian envoy to the United Nations, in the pro-reform daily newspaper Arman.
“Pompeo is very interested in waging a war similar to the Iraq war by citing international regulations,” Khorram wrote. “European powers will play a role in balancing his desire.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, meanwhile, sought to minimize Tillerson’s firing, calling it part of the “frequent and multiple” changes in Trump’s administration.
“What matters to the Islamic Republic of Iran are the policies and approaches of the United States in regard to international issues and toward Iran,” Ghasemi told journalists. “We closely monitor their approaches and macro policies and will take appropriate stances accordingly in the future.”
Tillerson’s firing was welcome news for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Iran as a regional menace. They have also pushed Washington to take a harder line on Qatar, which they and other Arab nations have boycotted since last year, accusing it of supporting extremist groups and cozying up to Iran. Tillerson had sought to mediate the crisis among the U.S. allies.
In the UAE on Wednesday, the English-language Khaleej Times borrowed from the U.S. president’s show-biz days for its headline: “YOU’RE FIRED!” Saudi Arabia’s English-language Arab News had the same headline.
Another English-language newspaper, the state-aligned The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi, offered an editorial saying Tillerson’s firing would “surprise few,” pointing to his disagreement with Trump over Qatar.
The UAE, along with Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, cut off land, sea and air routes to Qatar in June 2017. Qatar, which has backed Islamist opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, has denied supporting extremists. It shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.
Trump has at times appeared to side with Qatar’s rivals in the dispute, while Tillerson had projected a more neutral stance.
“While Mr. Tillerson shortsightedly urged Saudi Arabia and allies in the quartet to end their boycott of Qatar, Mr. Trump named Doha ‘a funder of terrorism at a very high level,’” The National’s editorial page said.
Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of the Arab News, similarly said Tillerson’s mishandling of the Middle East “turned the region into his political graveyard.” Abbas wrote that Tillerson’s handling of the Qatar dispute proved the former ExxonMobil CEO was “‘full of gas’ more than anything else.”
“Is there reason to believe Doha had influence over Tillerson? Was he really biased toward Qatar?” Abbas wrote in a front-page editorial. “Or was he surrounded by so many State Department officials still stuck in the Obama era that they undermined his ability to act? None of this matters now.”
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati professor of political science, called Tillerson “the worst foreign minister in the history of America” on Twitter. He also implied Gulf Arab unhappiness with Tillerson led to his ouster.
“History will remember that a Gulf state had a role in expelling the foreign minister of a superpower and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote.
Kuwait, which has sought to broker an end to the Qatar crisis, offered no immediate comment, though a local newspaper described Tillerson’s departure as striking “like an earthquake” in a headline.
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Hussain al-Qatari in Kuwait City and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
The story has been corrected to show the name of the Iranian daily newspaper is Javan.
Senate confirmation fights ahead on Trump’s State, CIA picks
By LISA MASCARO
AP Congressional Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) — Back in 2017, the Senate gave quick confirmation to President Donald Trump’s national security team and his first secretary of state. But it’s not likely to go as smoothly for Trump’s new nominees to run State and the CIA.
Senate Democrats — and some top Republicans — are slow-walking the process amid fresh questions over the Trump administration’s stance toward Russia and revived inquiries into the CIA’s dark history of torture.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The president’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touched off a Senate confirmation battle that will play out this spring ahead of midterm elections when control of Congress hangs in balance.
By tapping CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, the White House is counting on a repeat of Senate support for the former Kansas congressman confirmed last year to lead the clandestine agency.
But the political ground has shifted since the 66-32 vote to confirm Pompeo in January 2017 when the GOP-led Congress was eager to put the new president’s team in place and Democrats were unwilling to stand in the way. More than a dozen Democrats joined all but one Republican, GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, in backing him.
In the year since, Pompeo has drawn scrutiny for actions and statements showcasing his loyalty to Trump and his approach toward Russia.
Last month, Pompeo’s meeting with two top Russian spy chiefs drew a chain of questions from Schumer in part because it occurred days before the Trump administration initially decided not to issue new sanctions over Russian interference in the election.
Pompeo also made headlines for meeting with a former intelligence official who has floated the theory that Democratic National Committee’s email hack was an inside job rather than Russian interference in the 2016 election as U.S. officials have largely concluded. That meeting was first reported by The Intercept.
During one speech Pompeo claimed Russian meddling did not alter the election results, a finding that overstates the U.S. assessment of the interference.
“I think he’s going to have a tough time here,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “If he’s being hired simply to more efficiently destroy the State Department, I think it would be hard to get Democratic votes.”
At the same time, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made it clear he had plenty of questions for Trump’s choice of Gina Haspel to head the CIA over the “nature and extent” of her involvement in the agency’s waterboarding of terror suspects.
McCain has been among the GOP’s most outspoken opponents of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques that Congress did away with in 2008 but Trump has said he would consider reviving.
As a career intelligence officer, Haspel oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand from 2003 to 2005 where top terror suspects were waterboarded, and she later helped carry out an order to destroy waterboarding videos. Although she now serves as CIA deputy director, Haspel has not previously had to undergo Senate confirmation.
“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program,” McCain said in a statement. “I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law.”
Republicans hope to approve Trump’s nominees quickly, with the Foreign Relations Committee scheduling hearings next month for Pompeo and the Senate intelligence committee set to consider Haspel.
“Both these nominations seem perfectly well-qualified,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “We hope they’ll not be subjected to undue delay.”
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts acknowledged the confirmation battle could be different from last year when Pompeo — a fellow Kansan — asked for his advice about the job.
“I said, ‘Well, it’d be a good thing if I don’t even see you or hear from you for a year or two,” Roberts recalled.
The senator expects Pompeo will do well at State because of his military and intelligence background — he was top of his class at West Point. “And, he’ll be in sync with the president,” Roberts said. “You don’t want anybody in the position at odds with the president, as we have seen the last couple of weeks.”
Follow on Mascaro on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU