MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held talks with Iranian ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on the eve of a religious conference in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, official media said on Wednesday.
The two men had an “exchange of views” on the three-day international Muslim conference on dialogue with Christians and Jews which was to open on Wednesday at the initiative of the king, the Saudi Press Agency said.
Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989-97 and stood unsuccessfully for a third term of office in 2005, is still a key figure in Iranian politics, heading both the Assembly of Experts charged with choosing the all-powerful supreme leader and the main political arbitration body, the Expediency Council.
Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively head the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam which are both taking part in the conference.
The gathering which King Abdullah announced in March is widely seen as an attempt by the Saudi authorities to improve the image of Islam after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Talk of inter-faith dialogue marked a significant departure for the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom which follows a strict Sunni version of Islam known as Wahhabism.
The king said his initiative had the support of the Saudi clergy.