Wed, 20 Nov 2019

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Shi'ite-led Iran amid reports that he will attempt to mediate a decades-long dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Khan arrived in Tehran on October 13 and then will move on to Riyadh, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said on October 12.

U.S. President Donald Trump has asked Khan to play a role in reducing tensions between the two Muslim countries following the damaging September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities. Washington, Riyadh, and others in the West blame Iran for the attack, which Tehran denies.

'Saudi Arabia is our strategic partner, whereas Iran is a friend and neighbor," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said earlier in the week.

"We are seeking that misunderstandings between the two Muslim countries will be cleared through talks," said Qureshi, who stressed that the region could not afford a war.

The ministry said Khan's initiative was 'effort by the prime minister of Pakistan for ensuring peace in the region.'

The visit comes as Tehran described as a "cowardly attack" an incident that Iranian media have called the apparent targeting by missiles of an Iranian-owned oil tanker.

The tanker Sabiti was apparently hit in Red Sea waters off Saudi Arabia on October 11, Iranian media have reported.

The incident, yet to be independently confirmed, is the latest involving oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf region, and will likely ratchet up tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals involved in a proxy war in Yemen, which lies at the southern end of the Red Sea.

Nevertheless, Iran on October 12 said it was willing to meet with Saudi officials, with or without a mediator.

Asked about the potential for Khan to bring the sides together, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi was quoted by Iranian media as saying he was 'not aware of any mediation,' according to Reuters.

But, he added, 'Iran has announced that, with or without a mediator, it is always ready to hold talk with its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, to get rid of any misunderstandings.'

Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States, which has been at loggerheads with Tehran since President Donald Trump in May 2018 withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Riyadh on October 12 announced that King Salman had approved the deployment of additional U.S. troops and equipment following a Pentagon announcement that it was sending some 3,000 troops to the Persian Gulf state, including fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing, and air defense personnel.

Trump said that the Saudis had agreed to pay the costs of the deployment.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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