Saudis Coaxing Russia Away From Tehran, Diplomats Say

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia has been working on weaning Russia away from Iran over the past year but is unlikely to have extracted a promise from Moscow that it will change its policy, diplomats said Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Kommersant said U.S.-allied Riyadh offered to award Russia lucrative arms contracts if the Kremlin curtailed cooperation with Iran.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of Crown Prince Sultan and former ambassador to Washington, met President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.

Saudi television carried news of a landmark deal on military cooperation, following months of what diplomats in Riyadh say was quiet diplomacy as Prince Bandar frequently visited Moscow.

But a Russian government spokesman denied that the deal was linked to Iran, and diplomats say it is too early to determine whether Riyadh had won any concessions.

Many Western countries have tried to win defense and other contracts from Riyadh over the past two years, but few have actually come through. British and U.S. firms have secured the bulk of deals, worth billions of dollars.

"The speculation [in the media] is that this is a fundamental shift in [Russian] strategy, but how realistic that is is hard to say," a diplomat in Riyadh said.

He said the kingdom might have showed "a degree of discomfort" at Russia's close ties with Iran but was unlikely to have asked directly for a change of policy.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil producer and a close U.S. ally, is wary of Shiite Iran's ambitions, and it shares Western concerns that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Moscow is helping Tehran build its first nuclear power station and Putin visited both Tehran and Riyadh last year.