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Pakistani PM, army chief in Riyadh to soothe Iran ties

By Ians

Riyadh/Islamabad, Jan 18: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif on Monday arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital, and will later also visit Iran in a bid to defuse tensions between the two countries.

Gen Sharif met Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman upon arrival in Riyadh.

Nawaz Sharif

"After arriving in Riyadh, the army chief met the Saudi defence minister," Inter Services Public Relations said in a statement.

"The prime minister wants to defuse tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a peaceful manner," a statement issued by Pakistan's Foreign Office said.

"Pakistan has deep rooted, brotherly relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and is concerned over ongoing tension between the two Muslim countries," it added.

The premier is accompanied by a high-level delegation, including his foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz, special advisor Tariq Fatemi and National Security Advisor Nasir Khan Janjua.

Prime Minister Sharif will meet King Salman bin Abdulaziz and follow it up with talks with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on January 19 in Tehran, a statement from the prime minister's house confirmed.

Tensions between Riyadh and Tehran have been running high since the January 2 execution of leading Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr by Saudi Arabia and the subsequent attacks on Saudi embassy and consulate in Iran.

Saudi Arabia and some of its allies have cut off diplomatic ties with Iran, triggering a crisis in the region.

Earlier, a senior Pakistani official revealed that in one of the recent high-level meetings, the civil and military leadership of his country was informed that Pakistan could become a battleground for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran if their relations continue to deteriorate.

Fear of sectarian polarisation and proxy war between the two countries in Pakistan has compelled Islamabad to mount a diplomatic push to mediate between the two key Muslim countries, sources said.

The visit by Nawaz Sharif was described as a wise step in the best interest of the Muslim world, and leading politicians and analysts have hailed the premier's visit both to Saudi Arabia and Iran.


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