FOREIGN POLICY

In Saudi Arabia, Tillerson argues Iran is Trump's top Gulf region concern

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Saturday in Saudi Arabia that the focal point of President Trump’s visit to the Gulf nation is to curb the threat of neighboring Iran, while putting much of the burden on recently reelected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Rouhani has a new term,” Tillerson said at a press conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. “And he could use that term to dismantle a network of terrorism. … That’s what we hope he does.”  

Tillerson, well known in Saudi Arabia for his visits as ExxonMobil’s chief executive, said the United States also hopes Rouhani puts an end to ballistic missile testing and restores freedom of speech in his country.

Trump has been critical of Iran and a 2015 international deal led by then-President Barack Obama in which billions of dollars worth of economic sanction are being lifted in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear weapons program.

Tillerson also said Saturday, the kickoff day of Trump’s first overseas trip as president, that he might eventually talk to Rouhani but has no immediate plans.

“I’ve never shut off the phone to anybody who wants to have a productive conversation,” he said.

Among the other concerns discussed by Tillerson were ending the terror threat posed in the region by the Islamic State group and finding a solution to the years-long civil war in neighboring Yemen, where Saudi Arabia supports the government and Iran backs the rebel Houthi group.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us in that regard,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson spoke alongside Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir.

Al-Jubeir borrowed a Trump phrase when he said stronger U.S. ties will allow the region to "drain the swamps from which extremism and terrorism emanates."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.