May 30, 2009 / 9:21 AM / in 8 years

Saudi Arabia rejects Iraq claims of "negativity"

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz has rejected Iraqi claims that the kingdom was adopting “negative positions” on repairing diplomatic ties and urged Baghdad to improve border security.

In remarks published on Saturday by Saudi newspapers, Prince Nayef, who is also second deputy prime minister, said the kingdom wants only what is in Iraq’s best interest.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday Iraq’s efforts to build diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia had not been reciprocated and more would be “useless” without a change of heart from Riyadh.

“The kingdom only wants the welfare and stability of Iraq,” al-Watan quoted Prince Nayef as saying in answer to Maliki.

“The kingdom does what is in the best interest of Iraq and its people and the return of Iraq to its unity and sovereignty,” he added. He urged Iraq to improve border security to prevent the infiltration of Iraqis into Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials say the security situation in Iraq has been the main impediment to reciprocating Iraqi moves towards resuming full diplomatic ties, broken after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

But analysts say that Riyadh sees the current Iraqi leadership as being under the influence of its arch-foe Iran.

Iraq reopened its embassy in Riyadh in February 2007 but a few weeks later Saudi King Abdullah told an Arab summit in Riyadh that Iraq was under foreign occupation, an apparent reference to the U.S.-led military coalition.

Last month, Riyadh accepted the appointment of Iraq’s first ambassador to the kingdom since 1991.

“We succeeded in opening ourselves to many countries, but Saudi has negative positions,” Maliki said in a statement on the government’s website.

Iraq’s relations with Syria, Iran and some smaller Gulf states have improved since the 2003 U.S.-led ousting of Saddam, but ties with Saudi Arabia have remained tepid.

Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of Sunni Islam and is deeply suspicious of Iraq’s Shi‘ite-led government and Maliki’s Dawa party, which enjoys links to Iran.

Maliki has in the past year played down his Shi‘ite Islamist roots, cracking down on Shi‘ite militants in Baghdad and south Iraq, forging ties with Sunni Arabs in parliament and abandoning an overtly sectarian stance in his provincial election campaign.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing; editing by Tim Pearce

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