Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on European governments to join a U.S.-led sanctions regime against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, saying that countries doing business with the Islamic Republic’s force do so at their own risk.
The Revolutionary Guards “foment instability in the region and create destruction in the region,” Tillerson told reporters in Riyadh on Sunday after talks with King Salman of Saudi Arabia and other top officials. European countries and companies that do business with the IRGC “really do so at great risk,” he said.
Tillerson is in Saudi Arabia looking to counter Iranian influence in the region, including by bolstering an alliance between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. In the same vein, he is trying to make sure that the void left after U.S.-backed forces ousted Islamic State fighters in in Iraq is filled by U.S. allies, not adversaries such as Iran.
He called on Iranian-backed militias to lay down their weapons and leave.
“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said. “Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control.”
The secretary spoke a week after President Donald Trump announced a new Iran strategy, refusing to certify a 2015 landmark nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers. While he stopped short of repudiating the pact, he asked Congress to change it to to ensure it counters Iranian political influence in the Middle East and announced more sanctions on the IRGC.
The U.S. Treasury Department has designated the IRGC as a supporter of terrorism for its backing of the Quds Force, which conducts operations outside Iran. Tillerson’s comments Sunday are likely to only deepen anxiety and uncertainty among companies considering doing business in Iran now that nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted as part of the 2015 accord.
Speaking to Fox Business News on Oct. 20, Trump said he had told European allies to “just keep making money.”
“Don’t worry — we don’t need you on this one,” Trump said in the interview.
A senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the issue, said the administration was making a distinction between investment in IRGC-linked entities and those not tied to the group.
Tillerson spoke at the briefing after helping convene the first meeting of a new alliance between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He said said the newly established Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council “highlights the strength and breadth as well as the great potential of the relationship between your countries.”
Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states are engaged in their own efforts to roll back Shiite-led Iran’s expanding sway in the region, including in Iraq, where Shiite parties have dominated politics since the U.S. toppled the secular, Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“We are facing in our region serious challenges in the form of extremism, terrorism as well as attempts to destabilize our countries,” Saudi King Salman said at the event. “These attempts require our full attention.”
Tillerson flew to Qatar later on Sunday. The U.S. is also seeking to resolve a standoff between the emirate and a Saudi-led bloc of four countries that has cut most economic ties with Qatar, in part over its own growing connection with Iran.
Tillerson will also visit Pakistan, India, and Switzerland on the current trip.
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