Imran Khan likely to visit Saudi Arabia, Iran on October 11 to defuse Middle East tensions

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Published: October 11, 2019 11:55:44 AM

Islamabad has been tight-lipped about the trip. Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal on Thursday said he would update media about the visit "as and when things unfold".

Khan might be accompanied by a senior Pakistan army representative, they said. (File photo)Khan might be accompanied by a senior Pakistan army representative, they said. (File photo)

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is likely to visit Iran and Saudi Arabia on Saturday as part of Islamabad’s efforts to defuse the increasing tensions in the Middle East, diplomatic sources said on Friday.

The sources said Khan would travel to Tehran first where he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday. After the meeting, the prime minister will fly to Riyadh where he will meet the top Saudi leadership.

Khan might be accompanied by a senior Pakistan army representative, they said.

Islamabad has been tight-lipped about the trip. Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal on Thursday said he would update media about the visit “as and when things unfold”.

The Express Tribune on Thursday reported that the Pakistani premier is likely to visit Iran and Saudi later this month to mediate between the two nations. However, the dates are yet to be finalised.

Last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Khan said that Donald Trump had asked him to mediate with Iran to defuse tensions in the Middle East, though the US president later suggested that it was the Pakistani premier who approached him and nothing was final.

Tensions have been brewing between Tehran and Riyadh since the missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month. Both Saudi Arabia and the US have blamed Iran for the drone strikes, claimed by the Houthi rebels. However, Tehran has strongly rebutted the charges.

Pakistan and certain other countries have been trying to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Islamabad enjoys close ties with both Tehran and Riyadh and historically has been trying to tread a fine line in disputes involving the two Middle East nations.

In 2016, the then Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif mediated between Saudi and Iran in a bid to defuse tensions between the two countries that soared after the hanging of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia.

The execution of the cleric, who was considered a terrorist by Riyadh but hailed in Iran as a champion of the rights of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, had led to violent protests in the Middle East region.

Meanwhile, foreign policy experts noted that the geopolitical environment was favouring Pakistan’s initiative for mediation in the Persian Gulf, but called for cautious optimism about the prospect of success.

Addressing a roundtable conference hosted by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) on ‘Mediation in the Persian Gulf: Initiatives, Strategies and Obstacles’, former foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry noted that Pakistan has strong credentials for such a role, but at the same time there are huge challenges including deep mistrust, Saudi fears about rising Iranian influence and regional power play, the Dawn News reported.

“This is a timely and historic initiative. We, however, have to be realistic because of the difficult and complex issues involved in this rivalry,” Chaudhry said, adding that if these disputes were not addressed now, global politics would further deepen the gulf.

He suggested that during the trip Khan should warn leaders of both the countries about the consequences of war; seek a minimum common agenda on which the effort could be taken forward; offer to host a summit or a senior leadership meeting of both countries in Pakistan; and renew good offices to both countries, the report said.

The minimum agenda, he said, could be an understanding on not attacking each other and uninterrupted oil traffic.

Arab Affairs Analyst Ali Mehr was sceptical about the mediation initiative and said that Khan could at the best play the role of a messenger between the two countries.

He warned about the US role and influence on Saudi Arabia saying it could prevent any breakthrough in the initiative.

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