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Friday, December 15, 2006

Saudi ex-ambassador urged no US talks with Iran

Saudi ex-ambassador urged no US talks with Iran
Agence France-Presse - 15 December, 2006

The US State Department said Saudi Arabia's former ambassador here recently
visited Washington, adding spice to reports he was involved in a power
struggle which caused his successor to quit.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was the kingdom's top envoy to the United States
for 22 years until 2004. The Washington Post reported Thursday he was in the
US capital recently to counsel top officials against heeding mounting calls
for talks with Iran or Syria.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reluctantly confirmed Prince
Bandar met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when pressed by reporters,
but refused to divulge the substance of their conversation.

"I can't tell you the last time that he and the secretary met," McCormack
said. "I'm sure that it's been within the past several weeks, but I can't
tell you exactly when."

The Post quoted diplomats as saying many Saudis believed Syria had betrayed
the Arab world by leaning closer to Iran in recent months.

Saudi Arabia has shown increasing signs of concern over Tehran's growing
influence with Iraqi Shiite leaders, and its nuclear showdown with the West.

Interestingly, the mission of Prince Bandar, current Saudi national security
advisor, seems to directly conflict, on Iran, at least, with recent
statements on Tehran by his successor as ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal.

Prince Turki set off a diplomatic mystery on Monday by suddenly resigning
and leaving the United States for what were a Saudi official said were
"personal reasons."

Among several theories about his departure, was a report that he was locked
in a political feud with Bandar.

Signs of differences over Iran may hint at some of the reasons behind any
clash, as Prince Turki has publicly urged the United States to enter into
dialogue with Iran.

"Saudi Arabia talks to Iran frequently and frankly," Prince Turki said
during an an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies on October 4.

"I think for the United States not to talk to Iran is a mistake. We've found
in our experience that when we did not talk to Iran -- our relations were
broken for a period of a few years in the '90s -- we had more troubles with
each other.

"But since then, our relationship has improved dramatically and beneficially
for both our countries. So we think that negotiation and talking to people
is more important than shutting the doors on them."

The United States is at loggerheads with the Islamic Republic over a series
of issues, including Tehran's nuclear program, and also claims Tehran is
deliberately fanning extremism in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

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