RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Sunday expressed reservations over how Iran supports Arab countries, following talks with his Iranian counterpart.
“As much as we appreciate Iran’s support for Arab causes, we would like to see it channelled through Arab legality and be in harmony with its objectives,” Prince Saud told reporters.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in the Saudi capital earlier on a previously unannounced visit.
Prince Saud said Mottaki met King Abdullah and delivered a message from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East and the Gulf.
“I met him afterwards and discussed with him all these questions in a spirit of honesty, clarity and transparence,” said Prince Saud, who welcomed Mottaki at the airport.
Mottaki’s visit to the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia came less than a fortnight after Prince Saud called for a joint Arab strategy to deal with what he called the “Iranian challenge.”
“In order to cement Arab reconciliation we need a common vision for issues that concern Arab security and deal with the Iranian challenge,” he told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on March 3.
The relationship between the Shiite Islamic republic of Iran and the Sunni-ruled Arab monarchies in the Gulf led by Saudi Arabia has long been strained, most recently over concern about Tehran’s nuclear programme.
At the UN General Assembly last year, Prince Saud urged Tehran to comply with its nuclear obligations to spare the Middle East from “devastating conflicts, futile arms races and serious environmental hazards.”
The West fears that Iran is secretly trying to construct an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists its nuclear drive is entirely peaceful and aimed at generating electricity for a growing population.
Iranian support for groups such as Lebanon’s opposition Hezbollah movement and the Islamist Palestinian Hamas has also been a source of concern for the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia backs the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in Lebanon, where Hezbollah leads the opposition alliance. Syria and Iran are regional allies.
Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after deadly battles with the secular Fatah of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.