RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah late on Monday on violence in neighboring Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“All developments on the regional and international arenas were discussed, foremost of which was the Palestinian issue and the situation in Iraq,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.
The talks were also expected to tackle the standoff between the West and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.
A Saudi official said on Monday Iran had asked Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, to help ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States, as Washington held out the possibility of “engagement” with Tehran if it changed tack in Iraq.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani delivered a letter from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah ahead of Rice’s visit to Riyadh.
The official, who declined to be named, said Iran wanted Saudi leaders to relay a goodwill message to Washington. But the official gave no details.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman denied his country had asked Saudi Arabia to mediate with the United States.
Tensions have been rising over Iran’s role in Iraq and its nuclear program.
U.S. forces are holding five Iranians after raiding an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Arbil last week — the second such operation in Iraq in the past few weeks.
President Bush has vowed to stop what he said was Iranian interference in Iraq.
Bush is sending 20,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq to help stamp out an insurgency and sectarian bloodshed between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and its Sunni Arab minority, once dominant under Saddam Hussein.
Gulf Arab countries said last month they would go ahead with their own civilian nuclear energy program, in what some observers have said was a Saudi message to Washington that a nuclear arms race would ensue if Tehran was not checked.
The United States accuses Iran of having a secret nuclear weapons program. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for power generation.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at the weekend he hoped to hear clarification from Rice on Bush’s new strategy on Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, fears if U.S. troops leave Iraq prematurely it would allow Iran to gain more influence and put Sunnis at the mercy of Shi’ite militias.
The kingdom wants the United States to help revive stalled Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking.
Rice, on a lengthy Middle East tour, told reporters in Egypt on Monday she would bring Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together soon for what she called informal talks on how to set up a Palestinian state.
A senior U.S. official said the meeting would be held in three to four weeks, probably in the Middle East.