October 5, 2005

Iranian minister delays Saudi visit amid tensions

RIYADH (Reuters) - Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr
Mottaki postponed a planned visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday,
part of a regional tour aimed at easing Gulf Arab fears about
his country's influence in neighboring Iraq.

But officials in Riyadh and Tehran said he was still
expected to visit the kingdom and diplomats said they doubted
the delay was a result of political tension between the Gulf's
main Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim powers.

Mottaki had been due to hold talks in Jeddah on Wednesday
with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who
has criticized Iran's growing influence in predominantly
Shi'ite Iraq and warned Iraq's neighbors against interference.

But an Iranian foreign ministry official said there had
been no fixed timetable for the tour. "No solid timetable was
set for this trip. Mottaki will visit Saudi Arabia as part of
his regional trip," the official said in Tehran.

Mottaki, who visited Kuwait on Tuesday, met Omani officials
on Wednesday in Muscat as part of Iran's efforts to win the
support of pro-U.S. Gulf countries for Tehran's controversial
nuclear program.

Washington says Iran is pursuing nuclear arms, but Tehran
insists its program is dedicated to generating electricity.

The United States and the European Union also want the
International Atomic Energy Agency to send Iran to the Security
Council for violating nuclear obligations.

Mottaki said he had discussed "various issues" with Omani
officials, but would not give any details.

"We are carrying a message of peace, friendship and
brotherhood to the Sultanate of Oman," ONA quoted Mottaki as

Mottaki's visit to the Gulf comes after Saudi Arabia
publicly accused Iran of interfering in Iraq through its close
ties to the country's Shi'ite-dominated government.

Saudi Arabia has been alarmed at the resurgence of Iraq's
Shi'ite majority since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Prince Saud has said the U.S. invasion and occupation had
widened sectarian rifts to the point of handing Iraq to Iran.

Iraq's Shi'ite Interior Minister Bayan Jabor attacked the
Saudi minister's comments, saying Iraq would not be lectured by
a "bedouin riding a camel" and dismissing Saudi Arabia as a
royal dictatorship which refused to grant any rights to women.

Prince Saud repeated his warnings at a meeting of Arab
ministers in Jeddah on Sunday, saying the specter of civil war
in Iraq is growing day by day.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran)