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Monday, January 15, 2007

Iran sends message to Saudi Arabia amid rising tension

RIYADH, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani delivered letters to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah from Iranian leaders, Saudi media said on Monday, in a visit which comes amid rising tension over Iraq and Tehran's nuclear programme.

Saudi newspapers carried pictures of Larijani, who has often visited key U.S. ally and leading Sunni Muslim nation Saudi Arabia over the past year, in what looked like friendly conversation with King Abdullah on Sunday evening.

Larijani delivered the king a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The meeting was also attended by Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and key royal diplomat Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

A Saudi official said Iran wanted Saudi leaders to relay a goodwill message to Washington on a desire for cooperation, but gave no more details. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to arrive for talks in Riyadh on Monday and Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and a bastion of Sunni Islam, shares U.S. worry over Iran's nuclear programme and is also angry over Shi'ite Iran's influence in Iraq where sectarian violence is threatening a civil war.

U.S. President George W. Bush this month announced a new Iraq strategy and vowed action to stop what he said was Iran's role in fomenting violence there.

Gulf Arab countries said last month they would go ahead with their own civilian nuclear energy programme, in what some observers have said was a Saudi message to Washington that a nuclear arms race will ensue if Tehran is not checked.

Iran says its nuclear energy is for peaceful purposes but the United States says it is a covert arms programme.
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