Saudi Arabia, Iran Cooperating on CrisesAbdullah Shihri, AP Writer
Riyadh, January 30 - Saudi Arabia and Iran are working together to try to calm the crises in Iraq and Lebanon, the Saudi foreign minister said Tuesday, despite Washington's efforts to isolate Tehran and limit its influence in the Middle East. The mediation is an unusual step by two rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, that compete for regional influence.
(Picture left - Shiite men listen to a cleric retelling the story of the killing of Imam Hussein, grandson of Islam's founding Prophet Mohamed, at a Shiite community center in Manama, Bahrain, on Monday, Jan. 29, 2007. Many Shiites from eastern Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the mostly Sunni Arab Gulf visit Bahrain, the only Shiite-majority country outside Iran and Iraq, for colorful, mournful events marking Ashura that virtually shut down the island. AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
President Bush has rejected calls that the United States win Iran's help in easing Iraq's bloodshed and resolve the political crisis in Lebanon that erupted into violence last week. Instead, he has vowed to break what he called Iranian support for militants in both countries.
Saudi Arabia's willingness to work with Iran likely indicates the growing alarm in the kingdom's leadership over the two simultaneous crises, which have inflamed Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia has given tepid support to a new U.S. strategy in Iraq but has expressed skepticism over whether it will succeed. Besides sending 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, the new strategy takes a tougher stance on Iran.
Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of largely Sunni Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that Iran had apprached his country to "cooperate in averting strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon."
"Saudi Arabia wants only peace in the region," al-Faisal said.
A Saudi envoy is in Iran, which is majority Shiite, studying all the efforts being exerted to calm the situation and defuse the crises in Iraq and Lebanon" and "exploring what Iran can contribute," he said.
The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah — which Iran is believed to support with money and weapons — has been waging a campaign of street protests for the past two months in an attempt to bring down the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Last week, the protests erupted into clashes between supporters of the two sides that raised fears in Lebanon and across the Middle East that the country could explode into a sectarian civil war between its Shiites and Sunnis.
Saudi Arabia has close ties to Sunni politicians in the government's ruling coalition and has strongly backed Saniora.
Hezbollah has demanded a new national unity government that would give it and its allies more than a third of the Cabinet seats, enabling them to veto major decisions. Weeks of talks between the government and opposition have stalemated.
In Iraq, Iran is believed to back Shiite militias that have been blamed in killings of Sunni Arabs and it has close ties to Shiite parties that dominate the government. Saudi Arabia has strong tribal links to Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. AP
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