Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
March 06, 2007

A MEETING between the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia aimed at easing tensions between the neighbouring Shia and Sunni states ended with contradictory statements yesterday.
Saudi Arabia's official news agency reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had agreed in his talks with Saudi King Abdullah to support a Saudi peace initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict proposed in 2002.
But Mr Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for Israel to be wiped out, made no reference to the Saudi initiative or peace with Israel when he spoke about the meeting to reporters after returning to Tehran.

A few hours after the Saudi news report, Mr Ahmadinejad's spokesman issued a statement denying any agreement and said no peace deal had been discussed at the summit.

The Saudi initiative calls for the Arab world to normalise relations with Israel if it pulls back to the pre-Six Day War borders.

Mr Ahmadinejad had arrived in Riyadh on his first state visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday. He and King Abdullah clasped hands and smiled to the cameras in a demonstrative show of friendship.

But close to midnight it was announced that Mr Ahmadinejad was returning to Tehran, leading some Israeli analysts to speculate the talks had run aground. "It's strange for Ahmadinejad not to have stayed at least a night on such an important visit," Israeli Middle East Affairs analyst Guy Bechor said.

No joint statement was made by the two leaders to sum up their talks. Nor was there any announcement of further talks.

Mr Ahmadinejad told the Iranian news agency, IRNA, that he and the Saudi King had discussed the Palestinian situation and developments in Iraq.

"We have good relations with Saudi Arabia," he said, "and it was necessary to discuss current developments in the world of Islam with officials of the country."

Relations, in fact, are increasingly tense, with Saudi Arabia leading a coalition of Sunni states that have voiced concern over Iran's nuclear program and its spreading influence in the region, including Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

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