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Imran Khan to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia

11 October, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan will on Saturday embark on a trip for mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, officials disclosed. The prime minister would first travel to Iran where he will have a night stay. His meeting with President Hassan Rouhani has been scheduled for Sunday. He will later in the day go to Riyadh for meetings with the Saudi leadership.

Speaking at the weekly media briefing on Thursday, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal confirmed Mr Khan’s upcoming trip.

“The visits of the Prime Minister to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are on the cards,” he said without giving dates for the trip. He told reporters: “I will update you as and when things unfold.”

The mediation initiative is being taken at the request of Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had during Mr Khan’s last visit to Saudi Arabia asked him to help defuse tensions with Iran as Saudi Arabia wanted to avoid war.

Iranians have expressed their readiness to accept the offer, but have made it conditional to the US and other western forces leaving the region.

Pakistan is not new to mediation between the two Gulf rivals. There have been at least four major and minor initiatives since the 80s. Pakistan first tried its hand at mediation in the Middle East rivalry during the Iran-Iraq war, later in 1997 a meeting of the leadership of Iran and Saudi Arabia was hosted in Islamabad on the sidelines on an OIC Summit, and President Musharraf too tried to work on the matter in 2003/4, but his efforts did not make progress because he was seen too close to the US. The recent most initiative was in 2016 when the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif tried to get involved after tensions flared between the two sides in the aftermath of execution of top Saudi Shia cleric Baqir Al-Nimr. On that occasion, Saudi Arabia did not encourage the initiative.

Former foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, who was in office at the time of the last initiative, said Pakistan had a vested interest in Iran-Saudi Arabia rapprochement. Speaking at a roundtable conference hosted by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) on ‘Mediation in the Persian Gulf: Initiatives, Strategies and Obstacles’, he noted that Pakistan has strong credentials for such a role, but at the same time there are huge challenges including deep mistrust, Saudi fears about rising Iranian influence and regional power play.

“This is a timely and historic initiative. We, however, have to be realistic because of the difficult and complex issues involved in this rivalry,” Mr Chaudhry maintained, adding that if these disputes were not addressed now, global politics would further deepen the gulf.

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