Riyadh, March 16 – Saudi Arabia on Sunday urged Iran to act through diplomatic channels in supporting Arab causes, as tensions grow between the two Islamic powerhouses.
Non-Arab, Shi’ite Iran’s close ties with Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist factions such as Hamas have often been at the heart of tensions between U.S.-allied Arab states and Tehran.
“While we appreciate the Iranian support for Arab causes, we think that it must come through the rightful Arab (entities),” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference, after a brief visit by his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki who held talks with King Abdullah.
Iran’s support for Arab causes “must be in harmony with the goals and stances” of Arab governments and back their positions without being “a substitute for them”, Prince Saud said.
“Each of us has to deploy the necessary effort to ensure the stability and steadiness of relations on the basis of fruitful cooperation and mutual respect,” he added.
Iran has challenged Western influence in the region since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as leader of mainstream Sunni Islam, fears the United States and Iran will come to an historic agreement recognising Iran as the regional power in the Gulf, creating a possible threat to Al Saud family rule.
Iran is involved in a stand-off with Western nations which accuse it of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is only for power generation.
U.S. President Barack Obama has talked of engaging Iran in direct talks on its nuclear work and other issues, in a break from the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.
Riyadh and fellow predominantly-Sunni Arab conservatives who maintain close ties with the United States are alarmed at Iran’s influence in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, through backing for political groups, and they accuse Syria of facilitating this.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia brought together on Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to close ranks ahead of an Arab summit later this month in Qatar.
Prince Saud said of the gathering: “I can described the Riyadh meeting as an ice-melting meeting.
“Steps towards (Arab-Syrian) reconciliation have not yet been achieved for us to give a statement about the issue.”
The schism in the Arab world over Iran and Western influence in the region came to the surface in January over Israel’s offensive in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Qatar held an emergency summit in January, attended by Hamas figures and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to attend, insisting that an Arab economic summit in Kuwait would suffice.
The Egyptian and Saudi leaders declined to attend the 2008 Arab summit in Damascus because of the deep divide.