Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is positioning himself as a political mediator, starting with the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Max Foster, the Pakistani cricket legend turned politician said that US President Donald Trump had asked him to help defuse tensions by acting as a “go-between” with Iran.
“What I like about him is he does not believe in wars,” Khan said of the US President, speaking to CNN in Islamabad.
Khan met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Sunday, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with the aim of facilitating talks between the arch rivals.
Khan said Trump had asked him last month to “try and be a go-between with Iran and the United States.”
The US blamed Iran for last month’s attacks on Saudi oil facilities and Trump slapped Tehran with new sanctions on two pillars of the Iranian economy – the country’s central bank and its sovereign wealth fund.
But Iran has denied responsibility.
Yemen-based Houthi rebels, locked in an ongoing war for control of the country with Saudi Arabia and its allies, have said they are behind the attack.
US officials have refused to accept that claim, though they have not yet presented evidence that implicates Iran.
Meanwhile, the US has promised to send 1,800 more troops to Saudi Arabia to ensure its security.
Describing the attack as a “dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon last month that, while the US “does not seek conflict with Iran,” it had “many other military options available should they be necessary.”
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Khan warned against ratcheting up conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“If Saudi Arabia and Iran went to war, this would be a disaster,” Khan said.
He added that a priority in his discussions with the leaders of both countries was to create a ceasefire in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has battled Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
Khan also discussed the current turmoil in Syria, where Turkey began an offensive last week on the Kurdish-controlled northeast of the country.
The abrupt US repositioning of troops from the area has left Syrian Kurdish leaders looking for support from Syria’s government and from Russia, and drawn scathing criticism from US officials and military personnel.
“I agree that there should be the best effort to leave in an orderly fashion. But will there ever be a best way to leave, end a war? That’s why I don’t believe in starting wars,” he said.
Though he stopped short of criticizing Trump’s actions, Khan emphasized the importance of decisions made in Washington. “I think if President Trump really puts his mind to it, he can make a huge difference,” he said.
Khan was speaking to CNN at his residence in Islamabad, shortly after hosting an official visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their five-day tour of the country.
He was well-known as a friend of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and said in an official statement released by his office that Pakistan still bears “love and affection” for her.