The US top diplomat said Sunday that Saudi Arabia was not ready for direct talks with Qatar to resolve the region's ongoing diplomatic crisis.
"There is not a strong indication that the parties are ready to talk yet," Rex Tillerson said from Riyadh, where he was attending a cooperation council sponsored by Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, marking a thawing of relations between their two nations after decades of tensions.
"We are encouraged to see that Saudi Arabia and Iraq have made important strides in your bilateral relationship as evidenced by the recent opening of the Arar border crossing in August and the resumption of flights between Riyadh and Baghdad last week," said the secretary of state.
Tillerson added that he hoped that a stronger, more "independent" Baghdad would be able to "counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran" inside Iraq. Iran is a majority Shiite, as are the leaders of Iraq.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have also backed different sides in Yemen's civil conflict, further alienating Iran among the Gulf states.
US: Foreign fighters must leave Iraq
Tillerson took the opportunity to call on Iranian fighters to leave Iraqi soil.
"Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against … ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home," the secretary of state told reporters, using an alternative name for the "Islamic State" (IS).
"Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS … that have now been liberated, allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors."
Powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary units known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have been part of the fight against the "Islamic State." They have also aided the Iraqi army in its latest advances into areas disputed by the Kurds.
The largely Iraqi Shiite forces also include some Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and even Yazidi units.
es/cmk (AFP, Reuters)