Middle East leaders plus France hold Baghdad summit to talk security, diplomacy

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Several Middle Eastern leaders and French President Emmanuel Macron met in Baghdad on Saturday at a summit hosted by Iraq, which wants its neighbors to talk to each other instead of settling scores on its territory.

Relationships within the region are strained chiefly by hostility between Iran on one side and the United States and its Arab Gulf allies on the other.

Organizers said they did not expect any diplomatic breakthroughs at the summit.

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“Getting these countries to sit around the table – that will be achievement enough,” said one Iraqi government official.

Heads of state attending included President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Macron. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates sent their heads of government, and Turkey its foreign minister. Saudi Arabia is being represented by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

Macron’s trip to Iraq over two days aimed to support the regional dialogue, meet Iraqi political leaders and visit French special forces involved in the ongoing fight against ISIS.

Iran said it was sending Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Iranian officials have said they are focused more on the outcome of talks in Vienna with Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program and international sanctions.

“The meeting in Iraq ... is only focused on Iraq and how the regional countries can cooperate to help Iraq,” an Iranian official told Reuters ahead of the Baghdad summit.

The US-Iran rivalry brought the Middle East to the brink of war after the United States under former US President Donald Trump killed Iran’s military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport in 2020.

Iran-backed militias have launched increasingly sophisticated drone and rocket attacks against US forces stationed in Iraq, and also fired drones at Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has blamed attacks on its oil installations on Iran – a charge Tehran denies.