Pakistan PM Sharif to visit Saudi Arabia and Iran 'to ease tension'

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be travelling to Saudi Arabia and Iran in a bid to ease tensions between the two regional rivals.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be travelling to Saudi Arabia and Iran in a bid to ease tensions between the two regional rivals.PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will lead a high-level delegation to Saudi Arabia and Iran this week to try to ease tension between the Muslim countries, a minister said on Sunday.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid told AFP that Mr Sharif would travel to Riyadh on Monday (Jan 18) and Teheran on Tuesday and would meet Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said Mr Sharif would exchange views on regional and international issues and try to reduce tension between the two countries.

"Pakistan is deeply concerned at the recent escalation of tensions between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran," the spokesman said in a statement.

He said the Prime Minister has called for the peaceful settlement of differences in the larger interests of Muslim unity.

"The purpose of the visit is to mediate and to end the standoff between the two countries," a third government official said, requesting anonymity.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran are already fighting a proxy war in Yemen and support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict. But tensions have reached new heights in the past two weeks.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its Sunni Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Iran after protesters, angry at Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric, sacked its embassy in Teheran on Jan 2.

Local media said Pakistan's powerful army chief, General Raheel Sharif, would accompany the premier.

Pakistan is a majority Sunni country but 20 per cent of the population are Shi'ite.

Its decision this month to join Saudi Arabia's 34-country coalition against extremism sparked a domestic protest by the main opposition parties, who called for negotiations between Riyadh and Teheran and put Islamabad under pressure to mediate.