Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived on Monday in Saudi Arabia ahead of an extraordinary summit in Mecca expected to focus on the Syria conflict, on which Tehran and Riyadh have taken opposing sides.
Ahmadinejad arrived in the Muslim holy city of Medina, in western Saudi Arabia, SPA state news agency said, adding that he visited the mosque and tomb of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.
Iran-Saudi Arabia ties are currently also raw because Saudi oil is flooding the market at a time when Iran is struggling to sell its own crude under European Union and United States sanctions.
The summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Saudi holy city of Mecca. Ahmadinejad said he would make a private pilgrimage there before attending the gathering.
“The world today is in a very sensitive situation,” Ahmadinejad told reporters just before leaving Tehran, according to the Fars news agency.
“Different groups are at work and the enemies are actively pursuing their aims and a great deal of energy is being spent by Islamic governments and groups on arguing and confronting each other,” he said.
“This meeting is a chance for our country’s viewpoint to be explained transparently and for efforts to be made towards the convergence and protection of the interests of Muslim nations,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
“I hope that the summit will focus on increasing unity and lowering antagonism,” he said.
Saudi Arabia hosts the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-member pan-Muslim body.
Tensions between Tehran and Riyadh have run high over their opposing stances on regional uprisings.
Iran, a Shi’ite state, is Assad’s biggest ally and has pledged him full support in his fight.
Saudi Arabia’s Sunni leaders have accused predominantly Shi’ite Iran of stoking what they see as sectarian unrest in the region.
Tehran accuses Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming and financing the Syrian rebels.
Ahmadinejad said such differences serve the goals of the “enemies” of Muslim nations.
“A significant portion of the energy of Muslim governments and groups is spent in internal conflicts and damaging each other,” Ahmadinejad said, ISNA reported. “Perhaps it would be good for Muslim countries to consult with each other on this issue.”
U.S. officials and the Syrian opposition for their part claim Iran has sent military aid, including advisors and telecom surveillance equipment, to Damascus. Tehran denies it has any active forces in Syria.
Last week, Iran held its own 29-nation conference on Syria attended mostly by ambassadors from like-minded countries, with a couple of foreign ministers. Saudi Arabia was not present.
At the end of this month, Iran is to host another international gathering: a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which groups 120 countries considering themselves independent of any of the world’s major power blocs.
Ahmadinejad’s trip abroad takes place two days after two large earthquakes killed an estimated 300 people and injured 5,000 others in northwest Iran.
Gulf countries including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates extended their condolences, and the Turkish foreign ministry said it had informed Iran it was ready to help.