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Saudi Crown Prince Tours Arab States   12/06 06:28


   RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's crown prince was heading Monday 
to Oman, the first stop of a tour of Gulf Arab states that will see him meet 
neighboring rulers and allies as the kingdom closely watches negotiations in 
Europe to revive Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

   Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit coincides with a flurry of other 
diplomatic meetings in the region, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip 
Erdogan's visit to ally Qatar and a visit by a high-ranking security official 
from the United Arab Emirates to Iran. Confirmed by Saudi and Omani media, the 
tour also comes ahead of an upcoming annual six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council 
meeting of rulers this month.

   The tour will take Prince Mohammed to the UAE, where a rivalry has heated up 
for business amid diverging foreign policies between the traditional allies, as 
well as Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, according to diplomats who spoke to The 
Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss tour details.

   The diplomats said the tour aims to eliminate geopolitical differences and 
enhance cooperation and coordination among the six Gulf Arab countries, 
particularly in dealing effectively with Iran's nuclear program and regional 

   While relations among the GCC are underpinned by cultural, religious and 
tribal ties, they have widely different foreign policy stances on Iran. Oman, 
Kuwait and Qatar have all maintained relations with Iran, while Saudi Arabia, 
Bahrain and the UAE have seen tensions spike and actively work to curtail 
Iran's reach in the region.

   Saudi Arabia and the UAE, however, have held direct talks with Iran aimed at 
easing tensions. Gulf Arab states are concerned over a perception that the 
United States is increasingly disengaging from the Mideast to focus on threats 
from China and Russia. They point to the U.S. withdrawal of troops from 
Afghanistan as the latest example.

   The diplomats told the AP that Prince Mohammed's meetings with Arab rulers 
will stress the importance of self-reliance among the GCC. The kingdom and UAE 
are investing in homegrown defense industries and increasingly looking to 
countries such as France, Russia and China for military hardware, though the 
U.S. remains the top arms and defense supplier in the region.

   The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel oppose the 2015 Iran nuclear 
agreement, which has been on life support since the U.S. pulled out of the deal 
under then-President Donald Trump and imposed sweeping sanctions on Tehran.

   Prince Mohammed will also be seeking greater support for a resolution to the 
yearslong war in Yemen, the diplomats said. Saudi forces, despite accelerated 
airstrikes on the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and elsewhere in recent weeks, have 
not managed to significantly push back the country's Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

   In July, Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq made Saudi Arabia his first stop 
since taking power last year. Saudi Arabia, a global oil heavyweight, is the 
largest and the most populous Arab country in the GCC, and the largest economy 
in the Middle East.

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