Worried about Iraq, Saudi official heads for Iran talks

Saudi Arabia's National Security Council (NSC) Secretary Bandar bin Sultan to meet top officials.

bandar bin sultan 88 (photo credit: )
bandar bin sultan 88
(photo credit: )
Saudi Arabia's National Security Council (NSC) Secretary Bandar bin Sultan is due to visit Teheran for talks with senior Iranian officials on Thursday, the Fars News Agency reported, citing a well-informed source. The source also told FNA that Sultan seems to be conveying a message from King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud to high-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic. During the visit, Sultan will meet with his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani, who visited Saudi Arabia in mid January. Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned against partitioning Iraq along sectarian lines and told Iran not to "meddle" in Arab affairs. "For Saudi Arabia, a partition of Iraq is inconceivable. It is essential to avoid it," Faisal said in an interview published Wednesday in the French daily Le Figaro. "This breakup would first of all hurt Iraqis, who have suffered decades of conflict." With sectarian violence raging in Iraq, many now talk openly of partition along sectarian lines, which would end US hopes of promoting a unified, democratic Iraq. Despite mounting calls for a US troop withdrawal, US President George W. Bush has pushed ahead with his plan to increase forces in Iraq to stem the violence. "We are doing everything so that Iraqis - Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds - cooperate. From Iraq, al-Qaida threatens not only Saudi Arabia but also the entire region," the Saudi foreign minister was quoted as saying. Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country, is wary of the rise of religious Shi'ite parties in Iraq's new government and the influence of neighboring Shi'ite Iran, which is believed to be providing military and financial support to Shi'ite militias. In the Figaro interview, Faisal had harsh words for Iran, warning it against "meddling in Arab affairs." He also spoke out against French efforts to send an envoy to Iran to discuss the tensions in Lebanon and conflicts in the Middle East, saying doing so would "grant legitimacy to Iranian interference in the Arab world." Saudi Arabia reportedly warned Washington late last year that it could provide financial aid to Iraqi Sunnis in any fighting against Shi'ites if the US pulls its troops out of Iraq. The White House and a Saudi official denied the report. But private citizens in Saudi Arabia have already been funneling money to Sunni insurgents in Iraq.