- Associated Press - Sunday, December 11, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran has proposed the formation of a bloc of Muslim countries to fight terrorism and boost economic cooperation that would include its regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told a security conference on Sunday that the two countries, along with Turkey, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan, should join together to promote “regional peace based on Islam, defending the Palestinian people, fighting terrorism and economic interests.”

Shiite-majority Iran and mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia are bitterly divided, and support opposite sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in January after Iranian demonstrators stormed Saudi diplomatic facilities to protest the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

Larijani said Saudi Arabia and other nations should know that Iran is not “their enemy.” He said Iran is opposed to “warmongering in Syria and Yemen” and wants to resolve regional conflicts through “national solidarity governments resorting to democratic methods.”

“Iran is not after creating an empire and hegemony in the region,” he said. “Our viewpoint is aimed at improving unity.”

Iran is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and sponsors the Hezbollah armed group in Lebanon as well as state-sanctioned Iraqi Shiite militias. At a two-day security summit in Bahrain last week, the leaders of Western-allied Arab Gulf countries agreed on the need to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region.

Saudi Arabia announced the formation of a 34-member “Islamic military alliance” against terrorism nearly a year ago, which excluded Iran.

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