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Iran: Pakistani President Seeks Support To Curb Mideast Conflict

By Breffni O'Rourke

February 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is in Iran today for talks with President Mahmud Ahmedinjad and other Iranian leaders on how to break the cycle of violence in the Middle East region.

The focus is particularly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Musharraf has been in contact with a series of Muslim countries in recent weeks to gain support for his initiative.

Iranian Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani told the official IRNA news agency that Musharraf is seeking to build a consensus of Muslim states on how to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Musharraf is said to regard that dispute as the "root cause" of extremism and terrorism throughout the entire Mideast.

Musharraf launched his mission in Malaysia on February 1, saying that "things are deteriorating, worsening," according to Reuters. He advocated "trying to convert this downward slide towards upward momentum, towards resolution of disputes."

Why Now?

There has been no word on the details of Musharraf's plan, nor why he is undertaking this mission now.

But senior regional expert for Jane's strategic information services, Rahul Bedi, speculates that Musharraf -- a key ally of Washington -- may be visiting Tehran at the urging of the Americans.

Bedi notes there are reports circulating that Tehran and Washington are engaged in diplomatic contacts behind the scenes, despite the frosty silence between them in public.

"It is quite possible, I can't say definitively, but I think the visit of President Musharraf to Iran may have something to do with the background diplomacy which the United States is trying to implement with the Iranians," Bedi told RFE/RL from New Delhi.

Growing Concern

Bedi's hunch comes at a time when tensions in the region are rising, as the United States begins to move more troops into Iraq and is renewing accusations that Iran is supporting Iraqi insurgents. In reply, Tehran has continued to voice defiance of United Nations' calls for it to halt uranium enrichment. A visit from Musharraf could help hold the lid on.

Alireza Nourizadeh, an analyst at the Center for Iranian and Arab Studies in London, also thinks the visit could have its unstated focus an effort to prevent the tensions between the United States and Iran spilling into open hostilities.

"The Pakistanis are as concerned as the Iranians about peace in the Persian Gulf, they are worried that if there is a [U.S.-led] war on Iran, they too are going to suffer," Nourizadeh says.

This being the case, Nourizadeh says Musharraf may be trying to persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment. But he sees little likelihood of success in this.

Musharraf's Own Agenda

Analyst Bedi in New Delhi says there are also bilateral issues between Pakistan and Iran that could make Musharraf's visit worthwhile.

"President Musharraf has his own motivations for visiting Iran because there are a lot of probems in Baluchistan, which straddles the territories of Pakistan and Iran," Bedi says. "There is a Baluch population in Iran as well as in Pakistan, and they are in a restive, rebellious mood."

Returning to the broader picture, reports by IRNA and Reuters suggest that Musharraf has been in contact also with the Saudi Arabian and Turkish leaders. While in Southeast Asia last week, Musharraf met the chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also Malaysia's prime minister. In Jakarta, he conferred with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Adding a word of caution, Abdullah notes that previous efforts by the OIC, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab League have failed to cool the conflicts of the Middle East.


Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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