ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has told Iran that its closeness to Saudi Arabia was not against Tehran, officials said on Wednesday.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Islamabad had contacted Tehran ahead of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Islamabad and assured them about their policy of non-interference.

“We have told them clearly that Pakistan cannot be used against Iran nor Saudi Arabia has even mentioned Iran. The ties with Saudi Arabia are bilateral and as our good relations with Iran,” said one official.

Another official said Tehran was not unhappy with Pakistan’s close ties with Saudi Arabia ‘unless they do not cause any damage.’ “We have assured them there will be no damage. Pakistan values its ties with Iran and other countries too,” he added.

Yesterday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Iran was a sovereign country and had to decide if it can become member of the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance or not.

“We cannot ask them to join (the military alliance) or not. They are a sovereign country and have a senior foreign minister,” he said at a news conference here. He referred to interactions with Iran in the recent past and said Pakistan wanted to move forward with all the neighbours.

In 2016, Pakistan was active to ease Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions after Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on terrorism charges including Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia religious leader, and Fares Al-Shuwail Al-Zahrani, a convicted Al-Qaeda leader.

Nimr’s execution spurred Iranian demonstrators into ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting several Saudi allies to break off diplomatic ties with Iran.

Then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remained in contact with the top Iran and Saudi leadership to defuse the tension. He held talks with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and President Rouhani convincing them to resolve the disputes on the table.

Pakistan and Iran are also hoping to complete the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project soon to resolve Pakistan’s energy crisis. IP pipeline project - also called Peace Pipeline – is aimed at constructing pipeline from Iran’s South Pars fields in the Persian Gulf to Pakistan’s major cities of Karachi and Multan.

Iran was concerned when former army chief Raheel Sharif was appointed as head of the Saudi-led alliance. Riyadh had desired to appoint Raheel Sharif as head of the military alliance even prior to his retirement in November 2016.

Yesterday, Pakistan released details regarding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s two-day visit to Pakistan along with a high-powered delegation including members of the Saudi Royal family, key ministers and leading businessmen.

“At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman will visit Pakistan on 16-17 February 2019. He holds important portfolios in the Kingdom’s government, including that of the Vice President of the Council of Ministers and the Defence Minister,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

This will be first state-level visit of the prince to Pakistan since his elevation to the position of the Crown Prince in April 2017.

During the visit, the Saudi Crown Prince will call on President Arif Alvi. He will also meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa. A delegation of Pakistan’s Senate will also call on the Crown Prince to discuss ways to enhance parliamentary cooperation between the two countries.

The Saudi ministers accompanying the Crown Prince will meet their counterparts to discuss bilateral cooperation in their respective fields.  On the sidelines of the visit, businessmen of the two countries will also meet to discuss opportunities of collaboration in the private sector.

During his stay, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be signing a number of agreements and Memorandums of Understanding related to diverse sectors, including investment, finance, power, renewable energy, internal security, media, culture and sports.

The two countries will also discuss ways and means to develop a robust follow-up mechanism to ensure effective implementation and quick progress on tangible areas of cooperation.

“The visit of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is expected to significantly enhance bilateral ties between the two countries in all spheres of cooperation,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Strict security arrangements have been finalized ahead of arrival of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Islamabad.

Mobile phone service will remain suspended in parts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi while more than 100 check points will be established on different routes. During the stay of the Prince, training flights will be suspended whereas flying drones will also be prohibited.

Teams of security, media and doctors of Mohammed bin Salman have already reached Islamabad. Besides this, five trucks full of Saudi Crown Prince’s personal amenities also arrived in Islamabad that include his exercise equipment, furniture and other personal belongings.

Mohammed bin Salman will likely stay at the Prime Minister’s House, however; two of the top hotels in Islamabad have been booked fully for members of his staff while two others have been partially booked.

Prince Salman’s visit to Pakistan is likely to bring $20 billion investment in the country. Deals with Saudi Arabia have been finalised to get oil on loan.

Saudi Arabia will provide oil worth $3 billion to Pakistan for three years. Furthermore, meetings will be held with Mohammed bin Salman to hand over two power plants based on Liquefied Natural Gas to Saudi Arabia, with an expected investment of $2 billion. Saudi Arabia is also interested to invest $6 billion in Gwadar oil refinery.

The refinery and oil complex in the strategic Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea is the ultimate destination for the massive multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which lies not far from the Indo-Iranian port of Chabahar.