Saudis warned Iran not to underestimate US threat

Date: 03-30-07

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah reportedly warned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he should not underestimate the US military threat on Iran.

Ahmadinejad met with King Abdullah on March 4 in Riyadh, and publicly the two leaders agreed to fight growing Sunni-Shiite strife in the region.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told Newsweek in an interview that the king meanwhile warned Ahmadinejad to take seriously threats of US military strikes over Iran's refusal to halts its uranium enrichment program.

"On the nuclear issue, we warned him: 'Dont play with fire. Don't think the threat (of an American attack on Iran) is a nonexistent threat; think that it's a real threat, maybe even a palpable threat,'" Faisal said in the interview posted on the Newsweek website Friday.

"Why do you want to take a chance on that and harm your country?" the king continued, according to Faisal. "What is the rush? Why do you have to do it (enrich uranium) this year and not next year or the year after? Or five years from now? What is the real rush in it?"

The king "speaks to everybody frankly," Faisal said, adding that his ruler bluntly told Ahmadinejad: "Youre interfering in Arab affairs," a reference to Iran's alleged interference in other Middle East countries.

Ahmadinejad listened, then denied any interference. "But we said, 'Whether you deny it or not, this is creating bad feelings for Iran and we think you should stop,'" Faisal told Newsweek.

"Certainly what Iran is doing is interfering in Iraq," Faisal said. "We told them this will not benefit them but will do more damage to them than (good). But we have never put ourselves in a position of conflict with Iran."

The Saudis also told the Iranians "that their interference in Arab affairs is creating a backlash in the Arab world and in the Muslim world. Other Muslim countries are complaining of (Iranian) interference in internal affairs," Faisal said.

"And we talked to them frankly and honestly on this issue and they see the danger that what is happening is going to lead to strife between Shiites and Sunnis."

The Saudi foreign minister also said it was "a catastrophe" for Iran to be holding 15 British sailors and marines it had captured on March 23. Iran insists the personnel were detained for being in Iranian waters but Britain maintains they were inside Iraqi waters.

"This is just not the time for them to have a problem like that looming. We tell them that," Faisal said.

On Wednesday, the Saudi king criticized the US occupation of Iraq in an opening address to the annual Arab summit in Riyadh -- a move some observers say is an effort to distance himself from the embattled Bush administration.


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