Sunday, April 29, 2007

Opinion (Afshin Molavi): Iranian-Saudi ties defy the caricature

As Arab presidents, emirs and kings lined up alongside the United Nations secretary general and the Pakistani, Malaysian and Turkish heads of state in last month's Arab League summit in Riyadh, one key player was missing at the highest level: Iran. Its nominal head of state, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was not invited to the summit. Instead the relatively weak foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, attended on behalf of the Islamic Republic.

On the surface, this fits the caricature narrative that has emerged in policy and media circles on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean: Saudi Arabia, the bulwark of Sunni Islam, is caught in a battle for regional hegemony tinged with sectarian hues against Iran, the bulwark of Shiite Islam.

This analysis, however, fails to capture the growing and diverse range of diplomatic contacts between Riyadh and Tehran in the last few months, the insistent and loud anti-sectarian statements made by top leaders on both sides, and the evolving Saudi-Iranian relationship over the past decade. It also fails to capture the strategic philosophy of the Islamic Republic and the personal thinking of King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz.

Read the rest at the Daily Star