Iran General NewsIran denies urging Saudi to mediate with U.S.

Iran denies urging Saudi to mediate with U.S.

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Reuters: Iran has denied it asked Saudi Arabia to ease tension with Washington over a disputed nuclear programme and Iraq but analysts said on Tuesday Tehran may be trying to prevent U.S.-allied Arab states lining up against it. By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Iran has denied it asked Saudi Arabia to ease tension with Washington over a disputed nuclear programme and Iraq but analysts said on Tuesday Tehran may be trying to prevent U.S.-allied Arab states lining up against it.

A Saudi official said on Monday that Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had delivered a message from Iranian leaders to the Saudi King, urging him to convey a message of goodwill from Tehran to Washington.

“(The report about) Iran asking Saudi Arabia to mediate between Iran and America is baseless,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini was quoted as saying by state-owned Iran newspaper.

Hosseini could not be reached for further comment. State media has only said Larijani’s visit was to improve relations.

Analysts said Larijani’s visit to Riyadh may be part of efforts to prevent Sunni Muslim Arab states, like Saudi Arabia who fret about Tehran’s atomic ambitions, from lining up against Shi’ite Muslim Iran, a worry expressed by Iran’s leadership.

Larijani’s visit came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, as part of a Middle East tour. Rice and other U.S. leaders have put a fresh emphasis on checking Iran’s influence in Iraq and elsewhere.

Larijani’s visit, said Iranian political scientist Nasser Hadian-Jazy, “is a counter move to what Secretary Rice is going to do to unite the Arabs against Iran.”

But he said it also shows the renewed influence of moderate conservatives, like Larijani, amid growing public criticism of Ahmadinejad and his anti-U.S. speeches that are seen to have exacerbated tensions, particularly over the nuclear file.

‘NEUTRALISE PRESSURE’

Some politicians and officials say Larijani and other moderate officials are frustrated by Ahmadinejad, who they say has provoked confrontation and made it more difficult for Iran to secure what it calls its “nuclear rights”.

“In a calm and quiet atmosphere, Iran can neutralise America’s pressure on its atomic work. Fiery speeches worsen the situation,” said one official, who asked not to be identified because of sensitivity of the issue.

Ahmadinejad may not be the most powerful figure in Iran, where the final say rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Western diplomats say his provocative public tone has helped drive a tougher line.

As well as worrying Washington, Arab states, particularly those in the Gulf, are also watching Iran’s nuclear programme with growing alarm.

“I see Larijani’s visit more in the framework of trying to appease Sunni states. While American pressure is building up around them, they (Iranians) don’t want to face Sunni hostility as well,” said one political analyst, who asked not to be named. (Additional reporting by Edmund Blair)

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