RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Following meetings with top Saudi Arabian leaders in the country's capital on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that one of the Trump administration's top regional goals is to "make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital," a shot across the bow to a ruling regime that has spent billions to beef up its foreign military and terrorist operations.
Pompeo, speaking to reporters in Riyadh, said that the Trump administration's primary goal is to empower the Iranian people to rein in the ruling regime, which has spent a fortune on foreign wars and terror operations as its own people suffer from a collapsing economy.
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While the administration has been careful to avoid characterizing its policy as regime change, it has become clear that it does supports efforts by the Iranian people to end Tehran's expansionist march across the region, particularly in Syria and Yemen. The administration also has stated that it opposes the hardline regime and would offer its support to opposition elements in the country.
"Our effort is to make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital, and it becomes a nation that is normal and is not conducting terror campaigns that are unrivaled any place else in the world," Pompeo said.
This set of priorities was raised in private meetings between Pompeo, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Asked by the Washington Free Beacon if empowering the Iranian people amounts to a sort of passive backing for regime change in Tehran, officials made clear that the United States has no interest in taking the lead in such efforts. Rather, the Trump administration is working to build a coalition of Arab and European allies who can confront the Islamic Republic.
One piece of this effort includes convincing the Iranian people that their government's financing of terrorism and foreign wars is preventing ordinary citizens from seeing their country's economy rebound. U.S. and European economic sanctions, officials say, have decimated the Iranian economy and helped to stir popular protests across Iran.
"The end goal is to convince the Iranian people that America is serious about empowering them and creating opportunity for the Iranian people" to confront the regime about their anger over a foreign policy that spends billions on war and terror, Pompeo said in response to questions from the Free Beacon and other news outlets.
In Saudi Arabia, Pompeo pressed the issue of Iran's regional meddling and was met with what he characterized as great support.
"You have Iranian-backed Houthis, Iranian-backed Hezbolah, Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq, Iranian-backed forces in Syria," Pompeo said. "In each case, the root of the challenge stems from the revolutionary nature of the Islamic regime and their efforts abroad."
Saudi leaders are said to be fully onboard with the United States in combatting Iran.
Pompeo will travel back to the United States following meetings in Oman, according to the State Department.
"Secretary Pompeo will return to the United States after his meetings in Muscat, Oman," said State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino. "This curtailment of travel is required so that the Pompeo family may attend a family funeral. The secretary looks forward to visiting Kuwait to conduct the United States-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue at an agreeable time in the near future."