JEDDAH, July 20: President Asif Ali Zardari and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia agreed on Wednesday to work with greater cooperation in the wake of major developments in the region.
According to sources, the two leaders held extensive discussions on bilateral ties, situation in the Middle East and South Asia and the fight against militancy. The president who had arrived here earlier in the day called on the king at the Royal Palace.
The sources said that issues related to Iran, Afghanistan, situation in Bahrain and its security implications for the region came under discussion during the meeting which lasted over an hour.
Pakistan agreed to continue playing a positive role for stability in the region.
President Zardari said Pakistan wanted political stability in the Middle East and was against use of violence.
King Abdullah praised Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against militancy and said Saudi Arabia would remain a steadfast friend of the country through thick and thin.
The sources said the discussions were marked by conformity of views on virtually all issues.
On arrival, President Zardari and his entourage were greeted by Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz, Makkah Governor Prince Khalid Al Faisal, the mayor of Jeddah, senior members of the royal family and other dignitaries.
It may be mentioned that the credentials of new Pakistan Ambassador Mohammad Naeem Khan had been accepted within hours after his arrival in Riyadh on Tuesday.
The president is accompanied by Interior Minister Rehman Malik and his spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
Analysts here regard President Zardari’s visit as significant because it immediately follows his visits to Iran and Afghanistan.
With the ‘end game’ approaching in the Afghan war and the turmoil in Bahrain pitting Saudi Arabia against Iran, the visit is being seen as an effort to evolve a joint strategy on the issues.
Analysts also find it significant that the president had come to Saudi Arabia at a time when there are marked strains in Pakistan’s relations with the US. According to diplomats here, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have traditionally been interacting closely on Afghanistan and with negotiations under way to bring about an end to West’s involvement in that country, both sides appear keen to synchronise their moves.
Saudi officials acknowledge that recent developments have helped bring the leaders of the two countries closer than they were about a year ago.
Despite a recent denial about Pakistan playing a mediatory role between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the sources said the matter had been under intense discussion between the two countries for the past few months.
The sources said that while Pakistan appeared committed to helping counter any upheaval in the region, it was also in a position to play a role in lowering the temperature.
In a statement to Saudi daily Okaz, President Zardari said his visit had come at an important time in terms of regional developments which made it necessary for the two countries to work together for common goals and objectives.
The president also briefed the Saudi leaders on the investigation into the assassination of Saudi diplomat Hassan Al Qahtani in Karachi in May.
President Zardari last visited Saudi Arabia in November 2008.
In the intervening period, relations between the leadership of the two countries were marked by some ups and downs. But the relations now appear to be back on track.
Before the president, the interior minister visited the kingdom twice in recent months and in April the then minister of state for foreign affairs Hina Rabbani Khar came to Riyadh.
After the meeting on Wednesday, King Abdullah hosted a banquet for President Zardari and his entourage. The president will perform Umrah and visit Madinah before flying back to Pakistan on Thursday.
APP adds: Talking to reporters, the president’s spokesman said the visit was aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and taking forward the consultative process on issues of peace, security and political stability in countries of the region that had recently been witnessing violence and turmoil.