World Bulletin/News Desk
Saudi Arabia will hold talks about militant violence in the region on Thursday with the United States and Muslim allies, the kingdom announced on Tuesday, in an apparent attempt to support international efforts to tackle crises in Iraq and Syria.
The world's No. 1 oil exporter is unnerved by the rapid advance of ISIL -a militant group that has overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria- and fears it could radicalise some of its own citizens and lead to attacks on the U.S.-allied government.
"The meeting will tackle the issue of terrorism in the region and the extremist organisations that stand behind it and the means of addressing it," a statement carried on the official Saudi Press Agency said.
It said the participants would include Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and member states of the six-country Gulf Coopertion Council (GCC), which in addition to the kingdom comprises Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
Arab League foreign ministers agreed on Sunday to take all necessary measures to confront the ISIL.
President Barack Obama, who has authorised weeks of air strikes in Iraq to check advances by ISIL fighters, would like Gulf Arab states to consider military action as well, and would like to see them support Sunni Muslim moderates in Iraq and Syria who could undermine the appeal of ISIL.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to travel to Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the coming week for talks with Gulf leaders to determine whether they are prepared to back up their rhetoric with action.
Obama declared last week that the United States was ready to "take out" leaders of ISIL, and said NATO allies were prepared to join military action against a movement that he labeled a major threat to the West.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was encouraged by foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League who agreed on Sunday to take measures to confront ISIL, including suppressing foreign fighters, financing and other support in both Iraq and Syria.
"NOT GOING TO DO THIS ALONE"
But in Saudi Arabia, as elsewhere in the region, Kerry faces allies who may be reluctant to be seen aggressively joining the latest U.S. military foray in Iraq as Washington considers widening it to ISIL heartlands in neighboring Syria.
While Saudi leaders are alarmed at the prospect of a disintegrating Iraq that could shelter militants who may target the kingdom, they also deeply fear the fight against ISIL could hasten U.S.-Iran detente.
The Saudis told Kerry in June they were willing to help stabilize Iraq, but its majority Sunnis have only limited influence. Riyadh has had no functioning embassy in Baghdad since former dictator Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
While the ruling Al Saud dynasty maintains connections to Iraqi Sunni tribes, these ties are not strong, Gulf diplomats say. Riyadh was also not involved in talks that led to the 2007-10 "Awakening" movement of Iraqi tribes against al Qaeda.
The kingdom's Sunni Muslim rulers see the battle to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Riyadh's regional foe Shi'ite Iran, as pivotal to their own future.
Riyadh fears that if Assad survives, Tehran will expand its influence across the region and encircle the kingdom entirely. As a result, Saudi Arabia and Iran are backing opposing sides in wars as well as political struggles in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.
Top Saudi officials last summer lashed out against Washington after it decided against bombing Assad following a poison gas attack and after U.S. officials began negotiations with Iran over its atomic program.
U.S. officials are expected to press Saudi leaders for funds to help arm Sunni fighters who can take on ISIL, possibly including channeling much-needed money to the moderate Syrian rebels, said several former U.S. government officials who retain close ties to the government.
In Jordan, Kerry is expected to receive requests for extra military aid, including helicopters and border security equipment, along with part of the $500 million allocated to help train Syrian rebels, a Jordanian official told Reuters.
Jordan is considered a top choice to host any training of the rebels due its close security relationship with Washington, proximity to neighboring Syria and a pool of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Amman, however, fears violent retaliation from Syria if its territory is used for overt training.
Jordan already hosts a small and ostensibly covert, effort by the CIA to equip and train small groups of Assad's opponents.
"Kerry's general message will be that, 'Look, President Obama is committed to acting decisively to destroy ISIL, but he is not going to do this alone,'" said James Jeffrey, a veteran diplomat who was U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 2010-12.
"Kerry is also going to want their outreach to the Sunni tribes," he said of the Saudis. "In terms of outreach, we are talking about money, influence."Last Mod: 09 Eylül 2014, 14:19