RIYADH/MOSCOW: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday expressed “deep concern” to Saudi King Salman over escalating tensions between the Sunni kingdom and predominantly Shiite Iran. Sharif visited Riyadh in an effort to ease those tensions and is to head today to Saudi’s rival Iran where he is expected to meet President Hassan Rouhani. “The prime minister expressed our deep concern on the recent escalation of tensions” between Riyadh and Tehran, Islamabad’s foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said. “He also called for an early resolution of differences through peaceful means, in the larger interest of ummah (the Islamic nation), particularly during these challenging times.”
According to the Saudi Press Agency, King Salman “welcomed the prime minister of Pakistan and his delegation” to his palace. The report gave no details of their discussions, which SPA earlier said were to touch on regional as well as bilateral issues. “The purpose of the visit is to mediate and to end the standoff between the two countries,” a Pakistani government official told AFP, requesting anonymity, before the prime minister arrived. SPA said the prime minister was accompanied by Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Raheel Sharif. During yesterday’s meeting, Pakistan “assured the kingdom of its support” for a Saudi coalition of 34 nations to combat “terrorism” in the Islamic world, the Pakistani statement said. “It was agreed that both countries would work together to defeat our common enemy – terrorism and extremism.”
Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Emir of Qatar yesterday discussed the Syrian crisis, as global powers seek to push the warring sides towards the negotiating table. “Russia plays a main role when it comes to stability in the world,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said at the start of the meeting at the Kremlin. “We very much want to develop relations with Russia and find a solution to a number of problems related to stability in some countries of our region,” he added in translated remarks released by the Kremlin.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said both Moscow and Doha were expecting that, in accordance with a UN-backed plan, talks between the Syrian government and the opposition would begin “in the nearest future, already this month.” Lavrov said Russia and Qatar had also agreed to step up measures to battle terrorism. “Concrete steps that can facilitate this have been agreed,” he said in televised remarks, without elaborating.
The two countries also agreed to ramp up economic cooperation, with Putin telling Sheikh Tamim that Russia is keen to coordinate efforts in energy, “especially in the gas sphere.” “I am hoping that all the efforts we’ve made over the past years to build our ties will serve a good basis for further steps,” Putin said. “Investment cooperation is deemed to be very important,” the Qatari ruler said for his part. Amid persisting tensions with the West over the Ukraine crisis, Russia has over the past few years has sought to forge closer ties with Middle East powers including Qatar. – Agencies