Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Saudi King Abdullah in a telephone call that the aim of his controversial visit to Lebanon last week was to promote its unity, his office said on Thursday.
The Wednesday evening conversation between the two leaders their second in eight days came as the regional arch-rivals have been competing for influence in both Lebanon and Iraq.
Praising King Abdullah’s own visit to Lebanon in July, Ahmadinejad said: “We too have now travelled to Lebanon so the efforts to create unity and solidarity are complete. “In this trip, I talked to all of our Lebanese brothers about unity and they welcomed it,” his office’s website quoted him as telling the Saudi monarch.
Iran and Saudi Arabia support rival political alliances in Lebanon that sit uneasily together in a government of national unity. Saudi Arabia and Western governments back the majority bloc in parliament of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Iran and its regional ally Syria support the minority bloc led by Shiite militant group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful political and military force, which fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel.
Ahmadinejad received a hero’s welcome from Hezbollah and its supporters during his October 13-14 visit, during which he travelled to the Israeli border. The Iranian leader last spoke to the Saudi monarch the day before the visit, which drew strong criticism from Israel and the US.
In its report on Wednesday’s phone conversation, Iran’s official IRNA news agency said that Ahmadinejad and the king discussed a range of international developments as well as ways to boost relations. Iran and Saudi Arabia have also been competing for influence in Iraq where they have backed rival sides in the protracted battle for the premiership since an inconclusive March election between incumbent Nuri al-Maliki and former prime minister Iyad Allawi.
Saudi Arabia has been a strong supporter of Allawi, whose Iraqiya bloc drew most of its support from Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, regarding him as a counterweight to Iran’s influence among the Shiite majority, analysts say.