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Iran, Saudi Arabia Agree to Fight Sectarian Strife


The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to work together to end sectarian violence in the region. Leslie Boctor reports from VOA's regional bureau in Cairo on the meeting Saturday between the two leaders.

The talks took place in Riyadh in what was the Iranian president's first official visit to Saudi Arabia.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he and Saudi King Abdullah agreed to fight what he described as "enemy" plans to divide the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia's official news agency reported that the leaders agreed that they must work to counter attempts to fan sectarian strife between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim.

Saudi Arabia, the major Sunni heavy weight in the region, has been at political odds with Iran, the influential Shia power, over Iran's growing influence in Iraq.

But Saudi and Iranian officials have met several times in recent weeks to broker talks between Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's U.S. and Saudi-supported government.

The political crisis in Lebanon and the growing sectarian violence in Iraq have led to fears of sectarian conflict spreading across the region.

Abdel Monein Sa'id, the director of the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says with both Afghanistan and Iraq destabilized, Iran is in a position to exert more influence in the region. He says its nuclear ambitions and its military capabilities should not be taken lightly.

"Iran is one of the pillars of the Middle East. It is also a revolutionary country. It is trying to acquire nuclear capability," he said. "So, the mix of an important state with an ideology that is Islamic revolutionary, plus nuclear capacity, and a lot of nuclear preparedness, I think in itself is worrisome, whether in normal times or crisis times, and, certainly, the Saudis and many of the moderate countries in the region, they do not want to take that formula into a kind of confrontation."

Sa'id says the Saudis fear a worsening situation in Iran that could escalate to a violent stand-off with Western powers.

"The biggest fear of the Saudis is that we get a war that nobody wants, and the war evolves and develops in such a way that brings to the region a kind of a chaos, more than that of what the Iraq war is doing for at this moment," he added.

There are great expectations for Arab efforts to calm sectarian violence in Iraq, as well as in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. The talks between the two countries preceded a conference planned for Saturday in Baghdad of Iraq's neighbors, as well as the United States and Britain.