Tillerson off to Middle East, South Asia with eye on Iran, Iraq

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to the Middle East, South Asia and Europe this week on a diplomatic mission focused on conflicts in Iraq and Syria and blunting Iranian influence in the region, the State Department said on Thursday.

Tillerson departs on Friday for travel to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and India before returning home through Switzerland on Oct. 27, the department said in a statement.

In Riyadh, Tillerson will explore ways of improving relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq by participating in the first meeting of the two countries’ new coordination council, it said. That effort, which US officials say Tillerson has pushed for months, is aimed reducing Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq by encouraging Baghdad to align more closely with Riyadh.

Tillerson will also meet Saudi officials to discuss their ongoing military campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen and the crisis between the Gulf Arab states and Qatar. Tillerson has since June been attempting to mediate the dispute between the traditional US partners in the Gulf, two of which host major US military bases.

The Qatari capital of Doha will be his next stop, followed by Islamabad and New Delhi. This trip also marks Tillerson’s first visit to South Asia as secretary, according to the department.

Syria and other humanitarian crises, like the desperate situation for Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population, will top Tillerson’s agenda at his final stop in Geneva, where he will meet officials from the N refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration and the International Red Cross.

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