RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is hosting the leaders of Egypt and Syria on Wednesday in an effort to persuade Damascus to move away from Iran and instead work with US-allied Arab countries to blunt Tehran s influence.
Saudi Arabia hopes the one-day mini-Arab summit will help improve the frayed relations with Syria ahead of a larger Arab summit in Qatar later this month.
Syria has been bitterly feuding with Egypt and Saudi Arabia over several political issues – especially its close alliance with Iran and Palestinian and Lebanese groups.
But ahead of Wednesday meeting, Egypt s President Hosni Mubarak cast doubt whether the leaders will be able to come to any agreement. Egypt has repeatedly accused Iran, which along with Syria backs the Palestinian Hamas group, of trying to thwart Cairo s mediate efforts between rival Palestinian factions.
Egypt has responded favorably to calls for reconciliation, despite the fact that some continue to overshadow the climate of reconciliation with positions that reflect schemes forged outside our Arab region, Mubarak said Tuesday.
Egypt s foreign minister also accused Iran of trying to impose its influence in the region. Ahmed Aboul Gheit told Egyptian state television Tuesday that Iran is manipulating Arab states and entities to increase its influence.
Wednesday s meeting is part of efforts to improve those frayed relations, said a Saudi diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The three leaders would also be preparing the ground for the Arab League summit in Doha expected to take place on March 30, according to Riyadh diplomatic sources.
The leader of another US ally, Kuwait, is also attending the Saudi gathering Wednesday, Kuwait’s news agency reported.
Egypt has been struggling to reconcile rival Palestinian factions after Israel’s three-week offensive on Gaza and has blamed Iran and Syria for influencing the Palestinian group, Hamas.
Cairo believes Tehran’s and Damascus’ efforts to foil Palestinian reconciliation was one of the reasons that led to Israel’s assault on Gaza, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians.
“No one interferes in the Egyptian effort or tries to foils it and there is no blackmailing, said Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, the editor-in-chief of the state-run Al-Gomhuria newspaper, wrote in a recent editorial.
Iran and Syria also have long backed Hezbollah, the Shia group in Lebanon, which predominantly Sunni Egypt and Saudi Arabia have opposed.
Syrian-Saudi relations also were strained after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who had Saudi citizenship.
The assassination has been blamed on Syria, a charge the country denies.
Relations soured even more after Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a speech following the summer 2006 Israel war on Lebanon war, described leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as half-men for their failure to act to stop the violence. -Agencies