Saudi Arabia offers Iran's Rohani qualified support

DUBAI Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:17am EDT

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani gestures to the media during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdost

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani gestures to the media during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Fars News/Majid Hagdost

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, a Gulf rival of Iran, wants Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani to seek stability in the Middle East and avoid interfering in other states' affairs, a Saudi official was quoted as saying on Thursday.

"If that is what Rohani aims for, then we support him and bless this position," Al Watan newspaper quoted Foreign Ministry undersecretary Prince Turki bin Mohammed as saying.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and a leading Sunni Muslim power, has tense ties with Shi'ite Iran, notably over the war in Syria, where they back opposing sides, political unrest in Bahrain and the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

On Monday King Abdullah congratulated Rohani on his election victory and hailed what he described as the moderate cleric's wish to improve relations between the two nations.

Rohani has held out the prospect of forging better ties between Iran and the world, including the United States, and progress on resolving the nuclear dispute.

Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia favored "normal relations with Iran based on mutual respect and non-interference in the affairs of other states and the maintenance of security and stability of other states", Al Watan reported.

Western countries believe Iran is covertly seeking a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this, saying its atomic program has only energy and medical purposes.

The United States and the European Union tightened financial and trade sanctions on Iran last year, forcing sharp cuts to its oil exports and badly damaging its economy.

The day before he was elected, Rohani told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat daily that ending hostility between Iran and its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, would be his top priority.

"Saudi Arabia and Iran can play an important positive role in major issues like security of the Gulf," he declared.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush, Editing by William Maclean and Alistair Lyon)

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