ABU DHABI: US top diplomat Mike Pompeo has used a late-term Middle East tour to cement Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran, so President-elect Joe Biden cannot easily reverse it.
As the Donald Trump era draws to a close, US Secretary of State Pompeo has made containing the Islamic republic a key focus of his trip and even refused to rule out a military strike in a newspaper interview published Sunday (Nov 22).
While Biden has signalled a return to diplomacy with the Islamic republic, Pompeo has insisted Iran is the region's top threat, in a tour taking in Israel and the UAE and concluding in Saudi Arabia - all countries that view Iran through the same hawkish lens.
"This administration ... is here until Jan 20" and will "continue to pursue its policies", a senior US official travelling with Pompeo said during the stop in Abu Dhabi, which had followed a visit to Qatar's capital Doha.
"I would hope that this leverage that the (Trump) administration works so hard to get will be used to good purpose to get the Iranians to, once again, start behaving like a normal state."
Trump, who has refused to concede the bitter US election contest, unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers over two years ago, before reimposing crippling sanctions on Tehran.
In Jerusalem, Pompeo said in a statement Washington would keep up its policy of "maximum pressure" to isolate Iran, later describing it as "extraordinarily effective".
He has warned that the US could impose new sanctions in the coming "weeks and months", adding to a catalogue of measures slapped on the Islamic republic in the last two years.
In an interview with the National newspaper during his stop in Abu Dhabi, Pompeo was asked whether the US was considering a military strike against Iran, after the New York Times reported that Trump had been mulling such an option over Iran's nuclear programme not long after the election.
Pompeo - who, before embarking on his tour alluded to a second Trump administration, in apparent defiance of the election result - reportedly responded by saying that the US president "always retains the right to do what's needed to ensure that Americans are safe".
Critics of Trump's foreign policy have accused him of ratcheting up tensions to a point of no return so that Biden is unable to resume dialogue with Tehran.
Biden - vice-president under Barack Obama, when Tehran agreed the nuclear deal with world powers - is expected to attempt to reinvigorate that agreement, setting him on a potential collision course with Iran's arch-rival Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh has for years led a military coalition in support of Yemen's internationally recognised government against the Iran backed Huthi rebels, in a war that the UN warned this weekend leaves the impoverished country on the brink of famine.
In response to reports that the outgoing Trump administration could designate the Huthis as a terrorist group before leaving office, the senior official accompanying Pompeo did not confirm or deny the possibility.
"We would hope that the Huthis would negotiate in good faith ... with UN representative Martin Griffith towards finding a political solution for the war in Yemen," the US official said.
In stark contrast to the Trump administration's regional loyalties, the president-elect pledged on the campaign trail to turn Saudi Arabia into a "pariah", amid concerns over its military entanglement in Yemen and its wider human rights record.
Saudi Arabia, for its part, has said it expects no major change in its relationship with the US under Biden.
"We deal with the president of the United States as a friend, whether he's Republican or Democrat," Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told CNN in an interview released over the weekend.