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Pakistani, Saudi Leaders Set to Discuss Iran's Nuclear Ambitions


Iran's nuclear program, currently at the center of a furious international debate, is scheduled to be on the agenda when Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah visits Pakistan this week. Pakistani officials say the two-day visit will also cover economic cooperation and regional security.

Massive banners celebrating King Abdullah's visit lined the Pakistani capital's main thoroughfare Wednesday, although special security arrangements have virtually closed the city's roads to the public.

The Saudi monarch is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday with Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam says the meetings will focus on strengthening economic cooperation between the two long time allies, as well as Iran's controversial nuclear ambitions.

"The evolving security situation in the region will be discussed, that includes the situation arising out of Iran's nuclear program," she said.

Iran, flanked by Pakistan on the east and Saudi Arabia to the southwest, is engaged in a heated international standoff over its nuclear program. Tehran insists it wants nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes, but the United States and the European Union, among others, suspect it of trying to build a nuclear weapon.

President Bush, in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, said the international community could not allow Iran to gain nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia is also striking an aggressive stance toward Iran. Earlier this month, the country's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said Iran's nuclear ambitions "threaten disaster in the region."

Saudi Arabia is one of Pakistan's most important and reliable allies. It is Pakistan's largest supplier of oil, and recently pledged nearly $600 million for Pakistan's earthquake recovery efforts.

Nevertheless, Pakistan has taken a more conciliatory position on the Iranian issue. Spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam says Islamabad strongly opposes intervention by the U.N. Security Council in the matter.

"We are opposed to referring this issue to the U.N. Security Council," she said. "We want it resolved peacefully through negotiations."

The Western powers have asked the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible punitive action. The Iranians have said that doing so would mean the end of the kind of negotiations that Pakistan is promoting.

The Pakistanis have also spoken out against any possible military action against Iran. Pakistan is a close U.S. ally in the War on Terrorism, but says Western military action against another Muslim country in the region, after Afghanistan and Iraq, could undermine that effort.

Pakistan possesses its own nuclear weapons. In 2004, it faced sharp international condemnation after the head of its nuclear program admitted he had illegally sold advanced weapons technology to states that included Iran and North Korea.

Pakistan and Iran share deep political and cultural ties. Pakistan is also vigorously pursuing a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project with Tehran, a deal that Washington strongly opposes.