PM makes brief stopover in Madina on way to Riyadh

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Staff report

Islamabad

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday arrived in Saudi Arabia on a one-day visit termed by the Foreign Office as a part of “regular exchanges” between the leadership of the two countries.

“The consultations will cover bilateral matters and recent developments in the regional context,” the FO statement had said.

The premier arrived in Riyadh late in the afternoon after a brief stopover in Madina.

At the royal terminal of the kingdom’s capital, he was greeted by Riyadh Governor Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Raja Ali Ejaz, besides officials of Saudi protocol and officers of Pakistan Consulate.

Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood is accompanying the premier.

Earlier, in Madina, PM Imran paid his respects at the Holy Prophet’s grave and offered nawafil in Masjid-i-Nabvi. Upon his arrival, he was received by Madina Deputy Governor Prince Saud Bin Khalid Al Faisal.

According to media reports, the visit was recently planned after signals from Riyadh that it was not happy with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to attend Kuala Lumpur summit being held in Malaysia from Dec 18-20.

The Kuala Lumpur summit is the brainchild of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad. Other leaders participating in the summit are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. Indonesian President Joko Widodo too was expected to attend the summit, but he has reportedly succumbed to pressure and one of his representatives would now attend the meeting.

According to state-run radio, the visit is part of regular exchanges between the leadership of both the countries.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have brotherly relations deep rooted in history and based on mutual trust and understanding.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had also visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week. Speaking to reporters in Multan on Friday, Qureshi said he met with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud during his visit and informed him about the situation in occupied Kashmir.

This is PM Imran’s fourth visit to Saudi Arabia since May. In October, he also travelled to Iran following his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York in September.

Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and DG ISI Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed also visited Iran. General Qamar’s visit to Tehran in November was considered significant as he, according to some diplomatic sources, was carrying an important message for the Iranian leadership on behalf of the Saudis.

Pakistan has been trying to seek a patch-up between Iran and Saudi Arabia since September when the Saudi oil facilities came under missile attacks.

At that time there was a real danger of tensions translating into some serious conflict in the Persian Gulf region, as both the US and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the attack. Tehran had denied the charge while the Houthi rebels in Yemen came up and claimed responsibility.

Sensing the negative fallout of direct conflict between the two key Muslim countries, Pakistan made hectic efforts to prevent any escalation. PM Imran during his visit to UN General Assembly session in New York confirmed that he was mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

But later Pakistan clarified that it was only facilitating the dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran. Pakistan enjoys close relationship with Saudi Arabia but at the same time considers its ties with Iran important because of its proximity and other reasons.