Saudi defence minister ends landmark visit to Tehran
TEHRAN, May 5 (AFP) - Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan ibn Abdel
Aziz left Tehran on Wednesday, ending a four-day landmark visit during
which Iranian leaders repeatedly called for a defence pact with Riyadh.
"Riyadh's main objective was to discuss means to promote and
strengthen bilateral relations with Iran," Prince Sultan said before
departing for Islamabad.
He said the Saudi kingdom focuses on "serving Islam, Arabs and
"Differences of opinion between countries is natural...(but) we
should all take steps to promote the interests of the Arab and Islamic
worlds" he said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
It said the prince was seen off by his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani
as well as First Vice President Hassan Habibi.
"Contrary to what the general opinion might be, Tehran and Riyadh
share many similar objectives," Habibi said.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for a defence alliance with
the Saudi kingdom which echoed an overture last week by Defence Minister
But Prince Sultan played down the suggestion, underlining that the two
nations were still in the early stages of establishing strong ties.
"The question of military cooperation is not easy between two
countries whose relations were cut for years," the prince said Sunday,
stressing that they should start with "economic, social and cultural
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei roundly criticized the
Western military presence in the Gulf during talks with Prince Sultan,
saying that it was one of several "significant areas for mutual cooperation."
Relations between Tehran and Riyadh have improved considerably since
the May 1997 election of the moderate Khatami, who is due to visit Saudi
Arabia during a three-nation Arab tour beginning next week.