Iranian president visits Saudi Arabia

May 15, 1999 02:00 AM

Iran's president began a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia, marking the steady improvement in ties that were soured by Tehran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The two countries have been rivals for influence in the Persian Gulf for the past 20 years, but relations have been warming since moderate President Mohammed Khatami came to office in 1997.
Khatami's visit is the first by an Iranian leader since the revolution.
He held talks with Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah at al-Salam palace in the Red Sea port Jeddah.
The talks focused on oil and economic co-operation, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, as well as on security in the Gulf, the Arab-Israeli peace process and the conflicts in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Khatami's visit to Saudi Arabia is "historic by all measures," Kharrazi said. "Both countries have the will to advance their relationship and elevate it to the highest levels."
One main dispute between the two nations is Iran's opposition to the presence of U.S. military forces in the region. Thousands of American troops are based in Saudi Arabia, along with the U.S. warplanes that monitor Iran and patrol the "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq.
Iran believes their presence creates tension and often has said that Gulf stability and security should be guaranteed by the region's nations alone.
Iran had asked for military co-operation with Saudi Arabia, something the kingdom rejected as premature.
Gulf countries are wary of Iran's growing military arsenal, one of the most powerful in the region.
Despite these differences, Saudi Arabia and Iran have over the past 18 months exchanged high-level visits, agreed to exchange military attaches and co-operated on cutting oil production to raise prices.
During his stay, Khatami was expected to visit the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina to perform religious rites and tour Saudi Aramco in the country's oil centres in the east.
Saudi Arabia is the second leg of Khatami's three-nation tour of Arab countries. He arrived from Syria and will go next to the Gulf nation of Qatar.

Source: AP via Newspage
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