Saturday, January 27, 2007

Al-Quds al-Arabi: No Iran-Saudi deal on Lebanon, but signs of a thaw

There have been newspaper reports over the past week about Saudi contacts with Iran, and speculation about the possibility that a Saudi-Iran deal might have had something to do with the decision to end the general strike after a single day. This morning Al-Quds al-Arabi, citing an Arab diplomatic source, says there wasn't any specific deal on Lebanon, but rather an agreement between the respective national security officials, Bandar and Larijani, on the need for the two countries to start sorting things out between them on a region-wide basis.

Al-Quds al-Arabi cites an Arab diplomatic source who summarized the results of the recent visit to Tehran of prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of the Saudi national security council, as follows:
The meeting resulted in an implicit agreement about the need to contain the growing sectarian-political tensions in both Iraq and Lebanon. The source said Bandar gave an oral commitment that he would stop the recent fatwas issued by Saudi clerics declaring Shiites heretics, and that he would ease the campaign of attacks against Tehran in the Saudi media, a campaign which climaxed during the recent tour of the region by US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice.

Ali Larijani, who is the top Iranian national security official, denied Iran has any direct influence in either Iraq or Lebanon. And he had given to Saudi king Abdulaziz, just before the recent Rice tour, a message indicating Iran's desire to be cooperaive, but including an implicit warning against [Saudi Arabi] joining in any American diplomatic-military campaign against the Islamic Republic.

The source denied something frequently reported in the media recently, namely that the meeting had resulted in a Saudi-Iranian deal respecting Lebanon. However, he said there was a proposed agreement between the two countries respecting mutual recognition of minimum rights and fears, including Saudi anxiety about what it calls the Iranian nuclear threat, but at the same time recognition of a leading regional role for Tehran, not limited to Iraq and Lebanon, in keeping with its size and influence in the region.
By way of background, the journalist adds: Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, when he made statements last week with Condoleeza Rice on the new Bush strategy in Iraq, said only that supported the aims of the new strategy, adding that success would depend on cooperation from Iraq. And in remarks on Al-Arabiya TV broadcast on Thursday of this week, Al-Faisal appeared intent on not directing any criticisms at Tehran, declining to accuse it of interference in Iraqi affairs.

Faisal added (in the TV interview) that he Saudi Arabia supports anyone who supports the stability and national unity of Iraq, and equality of all Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shiia. He said the fire of sectarian tentions are no longer merely latent in Iraq, but have burst out into the open, and he expressed strong anxiety about the effects of any spreading of that in the region.

Finally, the journalist says this: "Observers noted that Faisal's remarks lacked the tone of escalation against Iran that he had adopted following the Israeli attack on Lebanon last summer, in which he had implicitly warned of an Iranian threat to the Arab nation".


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