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Khan Arrives In Iran Amid Reports Of Possible Mediation Role

By RFE/RL October 13, 2019

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he will attempt to facilitate talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia in an effort to defuse soaring tensions in the Persian Gulf, as he arrived in Tehran.

Khan held talks with Iranian President Hassan Rohani at the presidential palace and later met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on October 13.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Khan will later head to Riyadh.

"The reason for this trip is that we do not want a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran," Khan told reporters alongside Rohani.

"Whatever it takes we must never allow this conflict to take place, because we know, Mr. President, that there is a vested interest that wants this to take place," he told Rohani.

Tensions between Shi'ite-majority Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, longtime rivals, escalated 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.

Khan said he was also approached by U.S. President Donald Trump to "facilitate some sort of dialogue between Iran and the United States."

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since the United States last year withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Rohani reiterated Iran's official line that the United States must return to the deal and lift sanctions before any talks can take place.

"Any goodwill gesture and good words will be reciprocated with a goodwill gesture and good words," he said.

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

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/pakistan-khan-travels-saudi- arabia-iran-possible-mediation/30213924.html

Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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