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Mideast leaders plus France meet in Baghdad 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 neighbours 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.

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

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 Islamic State insurgents.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, longtime rivals for regional dominance, did not send their heads of state or government. Iran said it was sending Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, while Saudi Arabia had not yet announced its representative.

The two countries resumed direct talks in Iraq in April this year, but there has been no significant outcome so far.

Iranian officials have said they are focused more on the outcome of talks in Vienna with Western powers over Iran’s nuclear programme 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 U.S.-Iran rivalry brought the Middle East to the brink of war after the United States under former U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Photo: A handout photo made available by Iraqi PM media office shows Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi welcoming French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at Baghdad airport, in Baghdad, Iraq, late 27 August 2021 (issued 28 August 2021). Macron arrived in the Iraqi capital on 27 August on an official visit. The French President is set to attend a summit of Middle East leaders. EPA-EFE/IRAQI PM MEDIA OFFICE HANDOUT