Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday embarked on a one-day official trip to Iran as part of his “initiative” to promote regional peace, Radio Pak reported.

He is accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari.

The Foreign Office, in a statement issued on Saturday, said that Prime Minister Imran was undertaking the visit to Tehran “as part of his initiative to promote peace and security in the region”.

The premier is expected to meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as President Hassan Rouhani and will discuss issues relating to peace and security in the Gulf. He will also touch upon bilateral matters and other regional developments including those in occupied Kashmir.

This will be Prime Minister Imran’s second visit to Iran this year. In April, he undertook a two-day official trip on President Rouhani’s invitation.

There have been some last-minute changes in the prime minister’s itinerary for the trip. Instead of travelling for Iran on Saturday night, he has left today. Moreover, he would not travel onwards to Saudi Arabia, as indicated by officials in their private discussions earlier, and would instead return home the same day.

The adjustments in the plan happened because Riyadh is readying to receive Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Therefore, the premier will visit Riyadh sometime next week. A source said there is a possible window for the Saudi trip on Tuesday.

PM’s ‘initiative’ for peace

Relations between Tehran and Riyadh have worsened in the aftermath of an attack on the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia on September 14. Saudi Arabia blamed the attack on Tehran but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with CBS program “60 Minutes”, had said that a war with Iran will be catastrophic for the global economy.

The New York Times and certain other media organisations had earlier claimed that Saudi crown prince had requested Prime Minister Imran to mediate between his country and Iran to stave off war.

The premier had also said in a press conference in New York on September 24 claimed that US President Donald Trump had asked him to help in defusing tensions and he immediately went to meet President Rouhani on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly’s 74th session last month.

However, the FO in statement on Saturday credited the prime minister for the peace initiative. It said: “The initiative for possibility of dialogue between KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] and Iran, the two brotherly countries of Pakistan, is an effort by the prime minister of Pakistan for ensuring peace in the region.”

The statement denied that the crown prince had delivered a message for the Iranian leaders or even asked Prime Minister Imran to play a mediatory role with Iran.

Iran has, meanwhile, said it was open to any mediation or direct talks with Saudi Arabia.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in an interview with TRT while talking about the prime minister’s initiative, said: “We’ve never rejected any intermediary […] We’ve always been open to mediation, and we’ve always been open to direct talks with our Saudi neighbours.”

Emphasising the importance of dialogue for resolving outstanding issues, he said, “We don’t have any choice but to talk to each other.”

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