Saudi royal urges cooperation to dispel fears of Shiite power


"Let me say it loud and clear: instead of dreaming of a Shiite crescent or fearing it, we can work together to build a fertile crescent stretching from Iraq to Lebanon," Prince Turki al-Faisal told a conference on Gulf security.

Turki, who stepped down as ambassador to the United States in December, now chairs a think tank in Riyadh. He was referring to concerns among some Sunni Arab regimes about Shiite Iran’s growing influence in the region since majority Shiites swept to power in Iraq.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II articulated these concerns in December 2004 when he accused Iran of seeking to create a "crescent" dominated by Shiites extending from Iraq to Lebanon.

"Syria would be at the forefront (of the new alignment), Jordan would have a share in it and the Palestinians would have a niche," Turki said at the gathering in the United Arab Emirates.

The focus would be on "building and (achieving) prosperity and happiness. All Gulf states would benefit from it," said Turki, a former intelligence chief who also served as ambassador to Britain.

His comments came four days after Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as part of efforts to contain Sunni-Shiite bloodshed in Iraq and other regional conflicts, chiefly the political crisis in Lebanon.

"The kingdom and Iran agreed during the latest summit to put out the fire of sectarianism in Iraq and extinguish its embers in Lebanon. I prefer to look at Iran as a neighbourly and friendly state with which we are bound by historic ties and economic interests," Turki said.

His remark that Syria, a close ally of Iran, would be "at the forefront" of the proposed alignment follows months of strained ties between Riyadh and Damascus over Syrian policy in Lebanon.

Syria backs the Lebanese opposition led by the Shiite movement Hezbollah that has been trying to oust the government of Western-backed Sunni Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who has close ties with Saudi Arab

Turki, who was addressing a conference organised by the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, called for strengthening links between the two shores of the Gulf through Gulf Arab investments in Iran and vice versa.

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