Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday of Iran’s ‘destabilizing’ policies in the region and stressed on ensuring Tehran doesn’t acquire nuclear weapons.
In a strongly worded statement, al-Faisal told reporters during a joint conference with Kerry in Riyadh that “Iran is taking over Iraq.”
Kerry said the United States was keeping an eye on Iran’s ‘destabilizing’ acts even as the two nations try to reach a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.
“Even as we engage in these discussions with Iran around this program, we will not take our eye off Iran’s destabilizing actions” in the region,” he told reporters.
Kerry said Iran is still considered a state-sponsor of terrorism, adding that his country was aware of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani’s presence and activity in Iraq.
Soleimani is reportedly overseeing Shiite militias in the major offensive to expel Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants from the city of Tikrit.
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Al-Faisal said Kerry had given him assurances that Washington would not forget about other Iranian behavior in the region while it pursued a nuclear deal.
The Saudi top diplomat said Tikrit is an example of what is worrying the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia and several Arab countries are part of the U.S.-led air-campaign targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
During his press conference with Kerry, the Saudi foreign minister called on the coalition to fight the militants on the ground.
The kingdom “stresses the need to provide the military means needed to face this challenge on the ground,” al-Faisal said, adding that the Syrian crisis is providing shelter for terrorism, “with Assad’s blessing.”
Kerry, meanwhile, said military pressure may be needed to oust the Syrian president.
“He’s lost any semblance of legitimacy, but we have no higher priority than disrupting and defeating Daesh… Ultimately a combination of diplomacy and pressure will be needed to bring about a political transition,” he told reporters, adding that “military pressure may be needed.”
Daesh is an Arabic acronym for ISIS, which has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.