PM holds encouraging talks with Saudi leadership to defuse tension: Asif

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 19 (APP): Defence Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif on  Tuesday informed the National Assembly that Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif held encouraging talks with Saudi leadership to defuse the tension and there was good response from Saudi Arabia.
In his statement before the lower house of the Parliament, he said, the Prime Minister was holding talks with the Iranian leadership today (Tuesday) under the same spirit and expressed the hope that the Prime Minister’s visit would be successful.
He said the aim of the visit was to defuse tension between the two Muslim countries, adding that it also aimed at removing irritants emerged in the unity of Muslim Ummah.
He pointed out that Pakistan was playing a mediation role which was also desire of the Parliament. He said with the success of this mission, Pakistan’s positive image would be promoted in the world.
Referring to the 34-member alliance of Islamic countries, the Minister said it was still evolving and its scope and participation was being discussed. He said the matter came under discussion during the visits of Saudi foreign and defence ministers.
He made it clear that it was not an alliance against Iran rather it was an alliance against terrorism.
Khawaja Asif said the alliance had no military objectives and aimed at preparing a joint counter-terrorism narrative. He said this alliance and Pakistan’s role in the alliance should not be prejudged. The parliament would be taken into confidence on the issue, he
added.
Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz  told the House that it was just a coalition of 34-member states and  not an alliance.
He said it was upto any country to decide to take part in  any activity of the alliance such as intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism training, capacity building etc. The alliance
was still at an evolving stage, he added.
The Advisor also clarified a news item in a section of the press  regarding statement of foreign secretary about the 34-member coalition and said the foreign secretary had not said that he had no information but said that they were getting information about the issue.
He said in the last meeting of OIC in Kuwait comprehensive discussion  was held on counter terrorism, training, capacity building, IED training etc.Aziz said there should be no misunderstanding about Pakistan and Iran  relations and added that so far no negative reaction had come from Iran.
He said that he called the Iranian foreign minister yesterday about the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to Iran and he immediately replied, he is most welcome, both the countries have cordial relations.” He said his response was very positive.
Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan had a balanced and neutral policy and have cordial relations with both Saudi Arab and Iran.
Earlier, Defence Minister told the House that Pakistan had a defence agreement with Saudi Arab since 1980 and in 2007 counter terrorism training was added into it. He said that presently 1125 officers and personnel of armed forces were deployed in Saudi Arab and basic purpose of their deployment was training.
Khwaja Muhammad Asif said the US administration had agreed to provide eight F-16 fighters to Pakistan. He added that these fighter jets had played a vital role in eliminating the hideouts of terrorists in Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
He said the Indian lobby and a former Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, were lobbying against the deal but the US government had agreed in principle to deliver these fighters to Pakistan. PPP’s Sayed Naveed Qamar said there was still a number of matters of
concerns about the alliance.
“We cannot afford to be party in this tension between the two Islamic
states,” he added.
PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood said that there must be clarity on the issue as Pakistan had good relations with both the Islamic states. He said neutrality on the issue was a must and it should be handled carefully.
Syed Raza Abidi of MQM said both were Islamic states and the government should adopt a positive approach on the issue. He said the Prime Minister should take the parliament into confidence on the issue.