High hopes

 

Saudi newspapers have struck a welcoming tone in editorials, saying they hoped Ahmadinejad's visit signals a willingness by Iran to revise its regional policies and work closer with Arab governments.

Ghassan Sharbil, the Lebanese editor of the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat daily, described the visit as "exceptional" and said Ahmadinejad could turn it into an opportunity for his country.

 

"Iran has proved its capability of destabilisation ... cold and hot objections," wrote Sharbil. "Now, it's time to prove its ability to participate in creating stability."

 

Dawood al-Shirian, a Saudi journalist and analyst, said "the visit should be viewed with optimism", especially since it culminates weeks of talks between the two countries.

 

He said that if Riyadh was not sure that the talks would be successful, they would not be going ahead.

 

Iranian analysts were also optimistic about the visit.

 

Saeed Leylaz, an independent writer said: "Since Ahmadinejad's harsh rhetoric is partly responsible for the cooling in relations, he is taking this step to redress [the situation]."

 

But Leylaz expressed doubts that the talks would achieve a major breakthrough, predicting that the visit "may help Tehran and Riyadh to maintain a higher level of contacts to deal with regional issues".

 

New sanctions

 

On Saturday, top diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are to meet in Riyadh and try to reach agreement on new sanctions against Iran.

 

A US official predicted the session would lead to a "substantive resolution". 

 

The push for new sanctions follows an International Atomic Energy Agency report in late February that said Iran was expanding uranium enrichment instead of suspending it.

 

The US has been building up its military presence in the Gulf in the past two months.

 

Although Washington has said it has no plans to attack Iran, it has also refused to rule out any option.

 

Iran is a strong backer of Lebanon's Hezbollah, which is striving to bring down the US- and Saudi-backed Lebanese government.

 

Iran also has close ties to Shia-led political parties in Iraq, and Washington accuses it of backing Shia fighters there.