King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last night made a symbolic gesture to address Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by asking the Iranian president to sit beside him in welcoming the leaders of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) .
The OIC, which is meeting in Mecca, is expected to endorse the decision Wednesday to suspend Syria. This measure was adopted Monday at a preparatory meeting of the foreign ministers of 56 countries plus the Palestinian Authority.
By providing a special place to the Iranian leader, the Saudi king has made an important gesture, analysts said. Saudi television has broadcast the meeting at which Ahmadinejad, wearing a dark suit and a shirt without a tie, appeared seated to the left of King Abdullah. “This is a message to the Iranian nation, but I imagine also to the Saudi people, telling them that we are Muslims and we must work together and forget our differences,” said Abdallah al Chammari, an analyst of Saudi policy.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are engaged for several years in a struggle for influence in the Middle East and their rivalry was exacerbated by the civil war in Syria.
Riyadh, backed by Turkey in particular, supports the fight of Sunni insurgents against Bashar al-Assad while Tehran continues to be faithful to its Syrian ally.
“I think that Abdullah was trying to say to Ahmadinejad is that wants Saudi Arabia wants in Syria is not directed against Iran,” said the Saudi expert. Observers had expected that the OIC summit turns to a confrontation between Saudi Arabia, in favor of a political transition in Syria, and Iran, which supports.
Riyadh also accuses Tehran of maintaining agitation among the Shiites minority in the Gulf, especially Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy.
“King Abdullah told the Shiites: we do not try to do things without you and ignore you. It also tries to show that Ahmadinejad is also a Muslim and he is not different from us” said Chammari.