US Secretary of State John Kerry hosts Iraq talks with Middle East allies

PARIS (AFP) - United States Secretary of State John Kerry hosted urgent talks with Gulf allies and Jordan on Thursday to address the widening crisis in Iraq, where Sunni Islamic extremists have seized a swathe of territory.

Bringing together his counterparts from the largely Sunni nations of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Mr Kerry pressed home "that the threat of ISIS is not just to Iraq, it's to the region", a senior State Department official said.

The top US diplomat also briefed them on his visit this week to Baghdad and Arbil, in northern Iraq, where he sought to persuade fractious Iraqi leaders to unify to save the country which risks tearing apart in the face of the militant threat.

All the ministers present in Paris "expressed concern at the lack of inclusivity within the current government and the need for that to change going forward", the US official said.

Militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) this week seized the main border crossing from Iraq into Jordan, causing alarm in the Hashemite kingdom.

The oil-rich Sunni Gulf kingdom of Saudi Arabia has accused Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of fuelling the crisis by marginalising the country's Sunni Arab minority.

Washington has been calling on the countries to use their influence with Iraqi leaders and Sunni tribes to try to press for unity, as well as to disrupt any private networks which may be acting inside their own countries helping or funding ISIS.

Mr Kerry thanked the ministers for coming to discuss a "number of critical issues" at the talks held at the lavish US ambassador's residence. At one point he called US officials in Baghdad to get the latest update on the situation.

The ministers, each just accompanied by one aide, took off their jackets and sat outside in the warm Parisian sun huddling together for about 90 minutes.

Asked whether Mr Kerry had discussed potential US air strikes on ISIS forces, another senior State Department official said he told the ministers that the US "was in the process of looking at potential targets, but at this point no decision has been made to take military action".

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that "all these issues... are of immense importance for our countries.

"And I think with the cooperation between the countries we can affect hopefully the situation in the Middle East."

ISIS aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria and the ministers were also to discuss the three-year Syrian conflict.

Mr Kerry will fly to Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss the turmoil in the Middle East with King Abdullah.

The Saudi monarch on Thursday instructed the authorities in the oil-rich kingdom to take "necessary measures" to defend the country from jihadists battling the government in neighbouring Iraq.

The measures were not spelled out but decided during a security cabinet meeting chaired by the king and devoted to discussing developments in Iraq and their impact on Gulf Arab monarchies.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.