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Saudi Arabia, Russia, Gulf states offer Iran assistance in Raisi chopper search

May 20, 2024 07:34 AM IST

Iranian search and rescue teams were scouring a fog-shrouded mountainside.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday voiced "great concern" after Iranian state media reported that a helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi had gone missing, and offered to help with the response.

Emergency personnel walk in a foggy area following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan , East Azerbaijan Province, Iran.(via REUTERS)

"We affirm that the Kingdom stands by the sisterly Islamic Republic of Iran in these difficult circumstances and its readiness to provide any assistance that the Iranian agencies need," the foreign ministry of the Gulf kingdom, a longtime rival of Iran, said in a statement.

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Iranian search and rescue teams were scouring a fog-shrouded mountainside as Iranian state media said "an accident happened to the helicopter" transporting Raisi, a 63-year-old ultraconservative.

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, Qatar expressed its "deep concern" over the helicopter carrying Iran's president and foreign minister and offered "to provide all forms of support in the search".

The Gulf state's foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari gave "Qatar's wishes for the safety of the president, the foreign minister, and their companions", the statement added.

The United Arab Emirates said it was ready to "support search and rescue operations", and Kuwait declared it was standing "with the Islamic Republic of Iran in these difficult circumstances".

Shiite-majority Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia have long been on opposing sides of regional conflicts, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In 2016 bilateral ties were severed after attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran during protests over Riyadh's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

But in March 2023 the Middle East heavyweights announced a surprise rapprochement brokered by China, and they have been in relatively frequent contact in recent months as they worked to contain the war triggered in Gaza by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel.

That diplomatic outreach included the first phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, and Raisi just five days after the war broke out and a visit by Raisi to Riyadh in November for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

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