Faisal Urges Anti-IS Ground Fight as Kerry Says 'Military Pressure May be Needed' to Oust Assad
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called Thursday on the U.S.-led coalition conducting air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq to fight the jihadists on the ground, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that military pressure may be needed to oust Syria's President Bashar Assad.
Saudi Arabia, part of the anti-IS coalition, "stresses the need to provide the military means needed to face this challenge on the ground," Faisal said during a press conference with Kerry.
Several Arab countries have joined the air campaign against IS.
U.S. President Barack Obama, anxious to avoid a drawn-out ground war, has backed an air campaign but ruled out deploying boots on the ground.
Meanwhile, Faisal warned of Iran's growing role in Iraq, accusing the Shiite-dominated Islamic republic of "taking over" its Arab neighbor through its aid in the fight against IS.
"Tikrit is a prime example of what we are worried about. Iran is taking over the country," Faisal said of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown.
Kerry, however, said that Washington has "urged all Iraqi forces to avoid and prevent the abuse to civilians of any kind of activity that violates international norms, fuels sectarian fears, and promotes sectarian divides, and that includes Iran in terms of their activities."
The U.S. military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey, said Tuesday that Iran's help in an Iraqi offensive to recapture Tikrit could be "a positive thing" providing it did not fuel added sectarianism.
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia is wary of the ambitions of its arch rival across the Gulf.
But Kerry reassured that the United States is keeping an eye on Iran's perceived “destabilizing” acts even as the two nations try to reach a deal on Tehran's nuclear program.
"Even as we engage in these discussions with Iran around this program, we will not take our eye off Iran's destabilizing actions in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen particularly," he said.
Saudi Arabia and the five other Sunni Gulf nations remain wary about a rapprochement between Shiite-dominated Iran and Washington.
But Kerry underscored that "we are not seeking a grand bargain."
"Nothing will be different the day after this agreement, if we reach one, with respect to any other issues that challenge us in this region, except we will have taken steps to guarantee that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Whether or not there is a deal, the U.S. will be fully committed to addressing other issues with Iran, "including its support for terrorism," he said.
The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany is trying to strike an accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
In return, the West would ease punishing sanctions on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is purely civilian.
Kerry also noted that “military pressure” may be needed to oust Syria's Assad.
"He's lost any semblance of legitimacy, but we have no higher priority than disrupting and defeating Daesh and other terror networks", he told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
"Ultimately a combination of diplomacy and pressure will be needed to bring about a political transition. Military pressure particularly may be necessary given President Assad's reluctance to negotiate seriously."