US pressing for Saudi help to stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan
CAIRO: The United States has been pushing its powerhouse ally Saudi Arabia to help stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it has struggled to overcome the kingdom's deep mistrust of Pakistan's president and doubts over US strategy for reining in militants, leaked U.S. diplomatic memos show.
Saudi Arabia has long had enormous influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, using its petro-wealth and religious ties to Islamic hard-liners in both countries. The kingdom was one of only two countries to recognize the former Taliban government in Afghanistan and still has connections to Taliban figures.
But Saudi Arabia has been cautious in mediating between the Taliban and the U.S.backed Afghan government. A 2008 effort to get the two sides together in the Saudi holy city of Mecca collapsed, and earlier this month Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom would not mediate with the Taliban unless the movement broke its ties with al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. The memos released on the WikiLeaks website this week show differences in strategy between Washington and Saudi Arabia. American diplomats have been pressing the kingdom to throw its weight behind President Asif Ali Zardari with financial aid and intelligence help against the Pakistani Taliban and militant groups who have been crossing the border into Afghanistan to battle NATO and Afghan troops.
The pressure seems to have brought some grudging progress. But Saudi officials appear wary of aggressive action by the Pakistani military against insurgents in Pakistan, advising instead greater outreach to unruly tribes to rein in militants. Above all, they seem convinced Zardari is too corrupt to keep the country together - and would prefer a military strongman or Saudi Arabia's top ally in Pakistan, former prime minister and now opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.
A Pakistani presidential spokesman in Islamabad dismissed the reported comments, saying Zardari regards the Saudi king "as his elder brother." -Ap
BRUSSELS: European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet (C) arrives at the European Parliament to address the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in Brussels. -Reuters