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Published: Tuesday August 26, 2014 MYT 10:01:04 PM
Updated: Tuesday August 26, 2014 MYT 10:02:14 PM

Iran's deputy foreign minister says Saudi talks "positive and constructive"

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's deputy foreign minister said he had held a "positive and constructive" meeting with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister in Riyadh on Tuesday as the two rivals seek to counter Islamist militants in Iraq.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian's visit is the first by a senior Iranian official for talks with the kingdom since moderate President Hassan Rouhani was elected last summer and pledged to improve Tehran's frosty relations with its Arab neighbours.

Saudi official media had not reported on Abdollahian's arrival or his talks with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, a sign of the heightened sensitivities surrounding ties between two of the Middle East's most intractable foes.

"The meeting took place in a very positive and constructive atmosphere," Abdollahian told Reuters by telephone.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran back opposing sides in wars and political struggles in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain, usually along sectarian lines, and vie for influence across the Middle East.

However, both Tehran and Riyadh were aghast at the rapid advances made by Islamic State in June and July and welcomed the departure of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this month.

Maliki was a close political ally of Iran but the country's leaders came to see him as a liability after many Sunni Iraqis backed the revolt led by Islamic State.

Maliki was seen in Riyadh as being too close to Iran, and the Saudi ruler King Abdullah believed the outgoing prime minister had failed to fulfil promises he made to rein in the power of Shi'ite militias that targeted Sunnis.

However, Saudi Arabia remains wary of the incoming Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who is from the same political bloc as Maliki, analysts in the kingdom say, and continue to oppose what they see as Iranian interference in Arab countries.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday continued his own visit to Iraq, meeting Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, to whose forces Tehran has supplied weapons in response to Islamic State advances.

(Reporting by Michelle Moghtader,; Additional reporting by Angus McDowall, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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