PM, COAS to visit Iran, S. Arabia for mediation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has decided to launch a mediation effort to end the standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia amid growing international fears that a prolonged confrontation could have serious consequences for the region.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif would travel to Riyadh and Tehran together on Monday in an attempt to persuade them to de-escalate and resolve their disputes diplomatically.

Islamabad’s surprising move caught Pakistani and Iranian diplomats unawares. Foreign Ministry officials, who had this week briefed the National Assem­bly’s Stan­ding Committee on Foreign Affairs, had said the time was not right for mediating between the two countriess. The government had also this week cancelled a scheduled visit of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to Iran for discussing defence ties.

It was not clear whether any fresh development had prompted the government to start mediation.

A senior source confided in Dawn that the mediation effort was Gen Raheel Sharif’s initiative. The source said the general had cautioned Saudi ministers, who met him last week, that tensions were harmful for the entire region.

Govt under pressure at home to avoid taking sides in the conflict

The government was also domestically under pressure to mediate between the two and avoid taking sides in the conflict.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have always been uneasy. The tensions heightened last year due to the strife in Yemen and the death of over 400 Iranian pilgrims during the Haj stampede. The execution earlier this month of Saudi dissident and Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al Nimr, who was a fierce critic of the royal family, further inflamed those tensions and Riyadh snap­ped its diplomatic relations with Tehran after its embassy was ransacked by protesters.

A number of other Arab countries also followed suit by ending their diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Pakistan too had been under pressure from Saudi Arabia to side with it in the row. Saudi defence and foreign affairs ministers visited Islamabad last week in connection with the aggravating situation.

The Pakistani move coincides with the expected implementation of the deal between Tehran and the West over its nuclear programme.

Additionally, Chinese President Xi Jinping will be visiting Saudi Arabia and Iran from Tuesday where he is expected to emphasise on defusing the situation.

“China will continue to carry forward China-Arab traditional friendship and … safeguard peace, stability and development of the reg­ion and the world at large,” a policy paper on China’s Arab policy launched by the Chin­ese foreign ministry read.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2016

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