Afghan prez visits Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has called for Riyadh's help in restoring peace to his country arrived on Tuesday for talks in Saudi Arabia, the official SPA news agency said.

Karzai flew into Jeddah with a delegation and was to make the umrah, or minor Muslim pilgrimage, to nearby Mecca ahead of meetings with Saudi and regional officials on Wednesday, SPA said.

He is to hold talks with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference chief in Jeddah before heading to Riyadh where he is expected to meet King Abdullah and other top Saudi officials.

Karzai is believed to be seeking Saudi help in negotiating a peace with the Islamist Taliban rebels as well development aid for Afghanistan.

"To make our programme a success we hope that His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will kindly play a role to guide peace and assist the process," he told an international conference on war-torn Afghanistan in London last week.

Karzai won backing for a new peace and reconciliation programme with the Taliban at the London conference.

Long influential in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Riyadh has urged Karzai to find a political solution to the Taliban insurgency.

Saudi Arabia was one of three countries -- along with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates -- which recognised the 1996-2001 Taliban government in Kabul that was toppled by US-led forces after the 9/11 attacks.

But Riyadh has also said repeatedly they will not deal with the Taliban as long as the group helps protect Al-Qaeda.

Karzai, whose uncle Azizullah Karzai is the Afghan ambassador to Riyadh, is expected to stay in Saudi Arabia for three days.