Iran’s “unproductive influence in Iraq,” to be removed

At this press conference, hosted by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 22, Us Secretary of State Rex Tillerson voiced his support for the Saudi leadership in its regional policies, saying that the Trump administration plans to work closely with the Saudi government, which he suggested would help to counter Iran’s “unproductive influence in Iraq.”

“Well, thank you very much, Foreign Minister Jubeir, and as I commented earlier today, this is my third visit now to Riyadh this year as Secretary of State. It’s clearly an indication of the importance of the relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in particular, I was pleased to come to participate in this inaugural meeting of the Coordination Council that’s been established between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. I also want to thank His Majesty King Salman, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and His Excellency Jubeir for giving me so much time in our meetings today. We had very, very good exchanges.

Again, I think this Coordination Council establishment and this new reopening of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iraq are extremely important to the stability of the region, to the future of Iraq, and for the two countries. I think as Iraq looks towards the future, we know that they want a secure, stable economy, they want the capacity to meet the needs of all their citizens, and in particular, they want to develop the governmental capacities to resist any outside influence that they are a country that now is able to stand on their own. And I think this does require a repairing and rebuilding of what had been historic relationships between Iraq and its Arab neighbors, which have been lost over the last two or three decades because of the conflict. And I think this engagement is extremely important for the Iraqi people – Iraqi Sunni, Iraqi Shia, and 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.

Now, these 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. So again, I think this is extremely important and a very momentous time for both countries.

As I said, I had the opportunity to have very good and extensive meetings with His Majesty, with the Crown Prince, and with His Excellency. During those meetings, we did discuss President Trump’s new policy towards Iran, and King Salman gave a very strong endorsement of that policy to counter Iran’s malign behaviors in the region. Both of our countries believe that those who conduct business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, any of their entities – European companies or other companies around the globe – really do so at great risk. And we are hoping that European companies – countries and others around the world will join the U.S. as we put in place a sanctions structure to prohibit certain activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that foment instability in the region and creative destruction in the region both in terms of their involvement in Yemen, but their involvement in Syria as well.

During our meetings, we also discussed the conflict in Yemen, the ongoing Gulf dispute, and a number of other important regional issues, obviously including Syria as well. And as His Excellency just indicated, we did discuss the serious threat that North Korea poses to that region, but to the entire world. We are deeply concerned about that situation. The United States looks forward to continuing the spirit of cooperation and following on the important Riyadh summit that President Trump, at the invitation of His Majesty, attended earlier this year. Many, many important decisions came out of that summit, and other U.S. officials will be visiting the region to follow up on advancing commitments that were made in the Riyadh summit as well.

So I think all of this is evidence of a strong relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a real commitment to the security and stability of this region in the world, the fact that you see us here so often. We have a lot to work on, but it’s a lot of very meaningful work that is going to bring a greater security and stability to the region. And we have a terrific partner in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We look forward to accomplishing many things together in the future.”

At this point, the moderator asks one of the journalists present for her question, saying, “Vivian.”

She responds, “Vivian Nereim from Bloomberg News. My question is for Tillerson. How much of your efforts in this push for the Saudi-Iraq council is designed to counter Iranian influence? And does Iraq generally seem interested in distancing itself from Iran or can they do more?”

Tillerson answers: “Well, clearly, I think providing opportunities for Iraq to stand on its own – and so these economic opportunities are vital to, first, rebuilding the Iraqi economy and also rebuilding many – much of its infrastructure. And in doing so, we strengthen Iraq as an independent and whole country, and we do seek to support, as does the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a whole of Iraq, and that Iraq is secure and stable, and, as I indicated, has the ability to stand on its own. We believe this will in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq.”