US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks in Cairo, Egypt, January 10, 2019 (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AP)

Iran has quickly countered a high-profile if vague statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying that “wherever the US interferes, chaos, repression, and resentment follow”.

On a tour of the Middle East, Pompeo spoke in Cairo on Thursday. The address was primarily a repudiation of President Barack Obama, who delivered a significant statement on US policy and objectives in 2009. However, amid confusion in the Trump Administration’s approach to issues such as the Syrian conflict, the Secretary of State offered little of substance.

Instead, he fell back on platitudes such as the US as “a force for good in the Middle East” and denounced the “cancerous influence” of the Iranian regime in the Middle East.

Read Pompeo’s speech

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used Twitter for Tehran’s response. He jabbed at Washington’s support for the Shah of Iran until the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and for unnamed Middle Eastern leaders today.

Pompeo did refer to the comprehensive US sanctions on Iran, calling them the “strongest in history, and will keep getting tougher until Iran starts behaving like a normal country”. He spoke of specific measures by Arab states such as the UAE in support of the restrictions.

The Secretary of State declared a “campaign to stop Iran’s malevolent influence and actions against this region and the world”.

However, his message had already been weakened by Donald Trump’s impulsive announcement last month of a withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria, where Iran is an essential ally of the Assad regime. US officials such as National Security Advisor John Bolton, who put a priority on the limiting of Iranian influence, have pushed back against the decision; however, Trump said last week that the Iranians “can do what they want” in Syria’s 93-month conflict.

Pompeo tried to mask the conflicting approaches. He defended Trump’s withdrawal order, while pronouncing that the US will “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria through diplomacy and cooperation with partners.

He did not elaborate further on how the goal would be achieved.