AFP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit Saudi Arabia on Saturday for talks on the regional situation with the kingdom’s leaders, an official said on Thursday. TEHRAN, March 1, 2007 (AFP) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit Saudi Arabia on Saturday for talks on the regional situation with the kingdom’s leaders, an official said on Thursday.
Ahmadinejad’s visit comes at a time of political crisis in Lebanon and continued sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, two multi-confessional countries where Iran and Saudi Arabia have an important influence.
“The president will travel to Saudi Arabia on Saturday,” said the official familiar with the trip who declined to be named. He did not say if Ahmadinejad would be travelling directly from Sudan, where he is on a state visit.
Lebanon has been paralysed since six pro-Syrian ministers resigned in November, followed by the launch in December of an open-ended protest around Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s offices in Beirut.
The Islamic republic is the principal backer of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, whose ministers were among those who resigned, although Tehran denies US allegations that it arms and finances the group’s militia.
Iran has been working closely with Saudi Arabia to reduce political tensions in Lebanon although it has denied the existence of a joint Saudi-Iranian plan to calm the situation.
Top Iranian national security official Ali Larijani has held talks with Saudi officials in Riyadh twice this year, while his Saudi counterpart Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Tehran in late January.
The bloodshed in Iraq is also set to feature high on the agenda.
Shiite Iran is accused by the United States, Riyadh’s top Western ally, of arming Shiite militants attacking US forces in Iraq, charges that it vehemently denies.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the priority for the situation in Iraq is to stabilise security and support the democratically elected government,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a telephone call Thursday.
A controversy also erupted earlier this year over how Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia would behave if the United States rapidly pulled out of Shiite-majority Iraq.
A newspaper article by Nawaf Obeid, an advisor to the Saudi embassy in Washington, spoke of “massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis” if Washington withdrew.
The speculation was dismissed as groundless by officials in both countries.
Relations between Tehran and Riyadh have not always been smooth, most notably when 402 people, the majority Iranians, were killed in July 1987 in clashes between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security forces during the hajj.
Saudi Arabia, while predominantly Sunni, also has a minority community of Shiites concentrated in its Eastern Province.