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Originally published Sunday, January 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Sunnis won't convert, Saudi king says

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said in an interview published Saturday that attempts to convert Muslim Sunnis to the Shiite branch of Islam will not...

The Associated Press

KUWAIT CITY — Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said in an interview published Saturday that attempts to convert Muslim Sunnis to the Shiite branch of Islam will not succeed, and that Sunnis would always make up the majority of the world's Muslims.

Although Abdullah did not mention Iran by name, his comments -- rare for the Sunni monarch -- appeared aimed at easing Arab concerns over the Shiite nation's growing Mideast influence.

Arab media have claimed that Iran seeks to spread Shiism among the region's predominantly Sunni Arab countries as a way of increasing Tehran's political power.

"We are following up on this matter, and we are aware of the dimensions of spreading Shiism and where it has reached," Abdullah told the Kuwaiti Al-Siyassah daily.

"However, we believe that this process will not achieve its goal because the majority of Sunni Muslims will never change their faith," he added. Ultimately, "the majority of Muslims seem immune to any attempts by other sects to penetrate it [Sunnism] or diminish its historical power."

Abdullah's comments in Al-Siyassah, in response to a reporter's question, were the first on the issue of Sunnis converting to Shiism.

While there have been no specific examples of Iranians trying to convert Sunnis, Arabs fear such conversions would accompany Iran's growing powers.

Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and Arab political heavyweight, is a bastion of Sunni Islam and home to Islam's holiest shrines.

Two senior Saudi clerics declared this month that Shiites were infidels and heretics, describing them as "the most vicious enemy of Muslims."

Arabs also fear that Iran, locked in a dispute with the international community over its defiance to pursue a nuclear program, is using Shiite populations in Iraq and Lebanon for political leverage.

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