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Iran says it is ready for talks with Saudis, with or without mediation

Foreign ministry comments come ahead of visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who may help mediate differences
Khan told reporters last month on sidelines of UN General Assembly that Trump had asked him to help de-escalate Iran-Saudi situation (AFP)

Iran is prepared to hold talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia with or without the help of a mediator, the Iranian foreign ministry said on Saturday, ahead of a visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Asked about reports that Khan, due to arrive in Iran on Sunday, may try to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: "I am not aware of any mediation," according to state broadcaster IRIB.

"Iran has announced that, with or without a mediator, it is always ready to hold talks with its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, to get rid of any misunderstandings," Mousavi added.

Two senior Pakistani government officials confirmed to Reuters that Khan was going to Tehran to try to defuse tensions between the two rivals after US President Donald Trump asked for his help.

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Khan had told reporters last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly: "President Trump asked me if we could de-escalate the situation and maybe come up with another deal. So, I did convey this (to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani) and yes, we are trying our best. It's an ongoing thing so I can't reveal more than that."

"The prime minister is also visiting Saudi Arabia next week," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to talk about confidential matters.

"His mission is to try open negotiations, or some sort of confidence building for the two rival countries to start some talks," the official said.

Iran’s foreign minister signalled this week that his country would be willing to discuss regional issues with Saudi Arabia, but that Riyadh had to stop "killing people".

“Pakistan maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and it is our strategic partner. Iran is our neighbour and friend. Pakistan wishes to prevent further deterioration in differences between the two brotherly Islamic countries,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Friday, according to Voice of America.

“Very soon I will be accompanying the prime minister and we will travel to Iran, we will also visit Saudi Arabia. Our effort will be to help remove the misunderstandings and reduce the tensions to preserve regional peace,” Qureshi told reporters while speaking in his native eastern city of Multan, VOA reported.

Saudi Arabia is locked in several proxy wars in the region with Iran and has blamed Tehran for attacks on Saudi oil plants on 14 September, a charge Iran denies. The kingdom has said it prefers a political solution to a military one.

In a statement on Saturday, Pakistan's foreign ministry described Khan's visit to Tehran as "part of his initiative to promote peace and security in the region".

Khan is scheduled to have meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, it said.