ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia looks askance at Pakistan’s commitment to pursue energy cooperation with Iran and is nudging the government to reconsider its decision.
This was the essence of a message from the Saudi King conveyed by Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in his meetings with Pakistani leaders on Tuesday, Arab diplomatic sources based in Islamabad said.
Riyadh is said to have offered an ‘alternative package’ to meet Islamabad’s growing energy needs in an effort to persuade it to abandon the Iran gas pipeline and electricity/oil import deals.
The deputy foreign minister’s visit closely follows a trip by Saudi Culture and Information Minister Dr Abdul Aziz bin Mohiuddin Al-Khoja last week, which coincided with Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
The exchanges took place against the backdrop of an intensifying cold war between Tehran and Riyadh over Syria with smaller versions of the proxy being played out in Bahrain, Yemen and other parts of the region. The meetings are also taking place at a time when diplomatic efforts for dealing with the Syrian crisis have picked momentum.
Riyadh sees the situation in Syria as key to the future of the Middle East and has been spearheading efforts to isolate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The statements issued by the Presidency, Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Office all spoke about the cordial ties between the two countries and noted the discussions on “regional and international challenges”.
Mr Aziz also had a one-to-one interaction with Prime Minister Gilani, besides the delegation meeting, during which, a prime ministerial aide said, a “special message” from the Saudi monarch was delivered.
A senior Foreign Ministry official confirmed that Iran and the situation in Syria were on the agenda of the talks.
“They have a position. We reiterated our desire for the issues relating to Muslim Ummah to be peacefully resolved through dialogue,” he added.
President Zardari, in his meeting with Mr Aziz, also stressed the need for regional countries to find regional solutions to their problems.The Saudi delegation was informed that maintaining neighbourly relations with Iran did not mean endorsing its position or actions on other issues.
Mr Aziz was quoted in a Foreign Office statement as having said: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoyed commonality of views on regional and international challenges and the visit afforded him an opportunity to discuss these, and how to address them.”
Saudi Arabia is said to have offered a loan and oil facility to bail Pakistan out of its financial and energy crises.
A Pakistani official said the offer would be discussed at the Pak-Saudi joint ministerial meeting, which is being planned.
Referring to the ministerial meeting, Prime Minister Gilani told the Saudi minister that it was important for “working out mechanism to give impetus to trade compatible with the exemplary relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.