Iran's Rouhani says ties with Saudis deserve to be warmer

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 23, 2014 9:23 AM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia deserves to be better, though differences between the two oil-producing Middle Eastern states appear to be narrowing, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

"Our relationship with Saudi Arabia ... deserves to be warmer," Rouhani told a group of senior editors in New York ahead of the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. "Saudi Arabia's positions are getting closer and closer to us."

He added that if the two nations' differences are truly narrowing, "relations with Saudi Arabia will grow closer."

Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are enmeshed in a struggle for influence across the Middle East and have supported opposing sides in wars and political disputes in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.

Rouhani reacted cautiously to the U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria. He neither condemned nor endorsed the military action by the United States and Arab allies.

"The bombardment must have a certain framework that is needed to take place in a third country." He said that without a U.N. mandate or a request from the government of the affected country, military interventions "don't have any legal standing."

Syria said that Washington had informed Assad's government in a letter delivered by Iraq that the United States and its allies were going to attack Islamic State in Syria, hours before the air strikes took place.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a close ally of Iran, which has provided military support to his government during its civil war, now in its fourth year.

Rouhani added that he had no plans to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama while in New York this week.

(Reporting by Stephen Adler, writing by Louis Charbonneau, editing by Howard Goller)