Secretary Tillerson, in Riyadh, Pledges Support for Saudi-Iraq Relationship to Counter Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Riyadh over the weekend to express U.S. support for a warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq as the two nations inaugurate the first meeting of the Saudi-Iraq Coordination Council, a new organization that will facilitate bilateral ties.

The inaugural Coordination Council meeting marks a warming of relations between Riyadh and Baghdad. The gathering is seen as part of U.S. efforts to reduce Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq by encouraging Baghdad to align more closely with Riyadh.

“I think this Coordination Council establishment and this new reopening of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iraq are extremely important to stability of the region, to the future of Iraq, and for the two countries,” the Secretary said. “I think this engagement is extremely important for the Iraqi people – Iraqi Sunni, Iraqi Shia, the Kurds – that they are able to now reintegrate with their Arab neighbors, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, and others as well.”

The remarks were made in a joint press statement with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir.

“[T]hese areas of cooperation are also going to be, I think, very beneficial to Saudi Arabia as part of the Vision 2030 and the advancement of the Saudi economy, diversifying the economy. There will be new economic opportunities created from these coordination pillars that have been agreed under the Saudi-Iraqi agreement as well,” Tillerson said.

Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir echoed the need to strengthen ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. “We have similar ambitions, we have – we are both oil producers, we are both Arab countries, and it is pretty important that our two countries have the best of ties in all areas,” he said.

The Secretary of State, on his second visit to Saudi Arabia, met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in addition to attending a meeting between the Saudi and Iraqi heads of state.

Tillerson, who flew next to Qatar, also said he discussed the crisis with Qatar and the Saudi-led quartet of Arab states, but did not receive indication from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that they were ready to negotiate.

“I did in my meetings with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ask him please engage in dialogue,” Tillerson said at a briefing in Doha alongside Qatar’s foreign minister, according to Bloomberg. “There is not a strong indication that the parties are ready to talk yet. So we cannot force talks upon people who aren’t ready to talk.”