Saudi King Abdullah’s invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, for an extraordinary summit of Muslim leaders to be held later this week in the holy city of Mecca, has shocked and surprised many. And equally surprising is the news-report that the President of Iran has quickly accepted the invitation.
Call it strange or strategic, this development comes at a time when relations between Riyadh and Tehran are, perhaps, at their lowest level; especially with regard to the conflict in Syria.
In the context of Iran’s overt support to Syria’s Bashar Al Assad regime – which has been causing thousands of deaths since a year or so, is this new development a positive signal for peace?
In the background of allegations that Riyadh has been equipping the protestors in Syria, to fight against the Syrian rule, is this new development, a healthy sign for a safer future?
The answer, I believe, is a very big ‘Yes’. I am sure that this Mecca summit, of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to be held on August 15-16, will result in ramifications that will have tremendous impact on not just the Islamic nations, but on the entire world.
Top on the agenda is the Syrian conflict. And a Saudi-Iran solution to the conflict seems very likely, say some analysts. But a majority of them are, understandably, skeptical.
Iran’s top officials have always kept reiterating that they will not let the Syrian government fall. Saudi officials, on the other hand, have been supporting the opposition to the Syrian Government, in general, and the Free Syrian Army, in particular.
Which is why, perhaps, a leading political analyst in the region said: “Neither party is likely to back off before achieving their objectives in what appears to be a zero-sum game, but the Mecca summit will give both sides time to recalibrate their positions on the conflict”
As I write this on Sunday, Tehran is hosting a summit of Iran-friendly foreign ministers in an attempt to wrest the international focus away from calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down. It accuses Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar of arming the opposition in Syria, in collusion with the United States and Israel, to overthrow Assad.
The Iranian President has billed this Sunday’s meeting of a dozen unnamed countries as an opportunity “to replace military clashes with political, indigenous approaches to settle the disputes.” They even say they will adapt parts of the Kofi Annan peace plan that did not succeed.
Furthermore, according to a senior Iranian diplomat, those attending this meeting are countries with “a correct and realistic position” on the Syrian conflict.
We can debate for ever on what is “a correct and realistic position.’ But a clear solution to end the conflict does not seem to be in sight.
But, I believe, that the extension of a hand of friendship by Saudi’s King Abdulla, and its acceptance by Iran’s President Ahmadnejad are positive signs that there is a willingness to discuss issues, at the Mecca Summit.
And we all know that discussion and conference is always better than distrust and confrontation