Ahmadinejad heads to Saudi Arabia's summit to mend ties

AFP , Monday 13 Aug 2012

A day before Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Mecca, Iranian President Ahmadinejad leaves for Saudi Arabia in a visit he hopes will repair soured ties with his Arab neighbours

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Photo: Reuters)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left on Monday for Saudi Arabia ahead of an extraordinary summit in Mecca expected to focus on the Syria conflict, on which Tehran and Riyadh have opposing positions.

Iran-Saudi Arabia ties are currently also raw because Saudi oil is flooding the market at a time when Iran is struggling to sell its own crude under European Union and United States sanctions.

The summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Saudi holy city of Mecca. Ahmadinejad said he would make a private pilgrimage there before attending the gathering.

"The world today is in a very sensitive situation," Ahmadinejad told reporters just before leaving Tehran, according to the Fars news agency.

"Different groups are at work and the enemies are actively pursuing their aims and a great deal of energy is being spent by Islamic governments and groups on arguing and confronting each other," he said.

"I hope that the summit will focus on increasing unity and lowering antagonism," he said.

Saudi Arabia hosts the headquarters of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-member pan-Muslim body.

The oil-rich Gulf nation, a close US ally that observes an extreme version of Sunni Islam, supports the mostly Sunni rebels in Syria fighting to overthrow the Shia-dominated regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran, a Shia state, is Assad's biggest ally and has pledged him full support in his fight.

Tehran accuses Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming and financing the Syrian rebels.

US officials and the Syrian opposition for their part claim Iran has sent military aid, including advisors and telecom surveillance equipment, to Damascus. Tehran denies it has any active forces in Syria.

Last week, Iran held its own 29-nation conference on Syria attended mostly by ambassadors from like-minded countries, with a couple of foreign ministers. Saudi Arabia was not present.

At the end of this month, Iran is to host another international gathering: a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which groups 120 countries considering themselves independent of any of the world's major power blocs.

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