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Pakistan: Threat Of Saudi-Iran War Subsiding Due to Diplomacy by Islamabad

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, right, meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Riyadh on October 15.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, right, meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Riyadh on October 15.

Pakistan says Saudi Arabia and Iran have both shown a willingness to settle mutual disputes through diplomacy and negotiations, reducing chances of an immediate war in the Gulf.

The development stemmed from Islamabad's diplomatic initiative aiming to defuse Tehran's escalating tensions with Riyadh and "facilitate" possible talks between the two rivals, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters on October 16.

He was speaking after making trips with Prime Minister Imran Khan this week to the Iranian and Saudi capitals, where they discussed with leaders of the two countries how they both can overcome increased "misunderstandings" following last month's devastating strikes against vital Saudi oil-producing installations.

"If I were to present to you the crux of our discussions, I would say the dark clouds of war and conflict now look to be slowly dispersing. And this was Pakistan's objective No. 1: to prevent another conflict from hitting us [the region]," Qureshi asserted.

Riyadh and the United States have blamed Iran for orchestrating the attack — charges the Iranians deny. Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, which are fighting a Riyadh-led military coalition, took responsibility for the Sept. 14 attacks.

Khan traveled to Tehran on October 13 for his daylong "wide-ranging consultations" with President Hassan Rouhani. Speaking to reporters alongside Khan after the meeting, the Iranian leader hailed the Pakistani initiative and promised to reciprocate positively to "any goodwill gesture" to promote regional peace.

Qureshi said the Pakistani prime minister during his one-day trip to Riyadh on Tuesday conveyed "Iran's sentiments" to the Saudi leadership and it was agreed to in those meetings that a "peaceful diplomatic process" would be given a chance to ease tensions.

"I found them responsive to give peace a chance. I found them responsive for engagement," Qureshi added when asked whether Iranian and Saudi leaders were ready for direct talks.

The foreign minister noted a "mechanism for a way forward" is also currently under discussion. "It's a good beginning, but it would not be appropriate for me to divulge further details," he said.

Qureshi also hinted at a possible cease-fire in Yemen, but he gave no further details. Iran has long demanded that Saudi Arabia halt its military operations against Houthi insurgents in Yemen.

Pakistan has traditionally close political, economic and defense ties with Saudi Arabia. Pakistani troops also are stationed on Saudi soil to train local forces. More than 2.5 million Pakistanis are living and working in the kingdom.

But with its large Shi'ite minority and a nearly 900-kilometer border with Iran, Islamabad has largely stayed neutral in Middle East tensions. It declined a Saudi call a few years back to join the military alliance fighting the Houthi insurgents in Yemen, winning praise from Iran.

US-Iran Ties

Khan has said U.S. President Donald Trump also asked him to mediate U.S. tensions with Iran, when the two leaders met in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

"I did speak to President Rouhani, when I was in Iran [on October 13] about the U.S. offer. And that's an evolving situation, so let's see if it gets anywhere," Khan told CNN at his office on October 15 just before traveling to Saudi Arabia.

The prime minister, however, described the situation between the U.S. and Iran as "more complicated" and declined to discuss further details about his mediatory efforts on that front "until there is some response from both sides."

Khan said he was optimistic about his diplomatic initiative and noted he indicated support to Trump for his policy of winding down America's wars. "What I like about him, he does not believe in wars."

The Pakistani leader says his country is suffering from years of war in neighboring Afghanistan and can barely afford another regional conflict.

Washington also acknowledges Khan's efforts to facilitate now defunct U.S.-Taliban peace talks aimed at ending the Afghan war, America's longest overseas military intervention.