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Saudi Arabia defence minister arrived in Pakistan

10 January, 2016

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ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who is also the deputy prime minister and minister for defence, arrived here on Sunday for a daylong trip for seeking Pakistan’s support as the kingdom mulls additional steps against Iran.

This is the second high-profile visitor from Riyadh in three days. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Islamabad on Thursday for discussing Riyadh’s tensions with Tehran and the counter-terrorism coalition that Saudi Arabia has announced.

Prince Muhammad would follow up on the discussions FM Jubeir had here. He would meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Minister for Defence Khawaja Asif and Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif.

Pakistan has indicated it could consider the Saudi invitation to join the 34-nation coalition (proposed by Riyadh before the Iran spat). However, no official announcement has been made so far.

Islamabad has criticised Iran for reacting to Saudi cleric Sheikh Nimr’s execution and sees it as interference in internal matters of the kingdom.

FM Jubeir on Saturday, after an extraordinary meeting of the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said that Saudi Arabia could take further steps against Iran if tensions were to escalate.

A source said that the Saudi defence minister is expected to conclude a military cooperation arrangement during the trip, which the two sides have been negotiating recently.

Saudi Assistant Defence Minister for Military Affairs Muhammad Bin Abdullah al-Ayish earlier visited GHQ and his trip was followed by discussions at other levels. Details of the cooperation agreement are being kept under wraps.

A military official described intensified contacts as part of Riyadh’s heightened diplomatic outreach to allied countries amid aggravating tensions with Iran.

Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Rashad Mahmood is also expected to visit Saudi Arabia later this month.

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