EghtesadOnline: Iran is ready to join an initiative that promotes “inclusive cooperation” among regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, if they are determined to help make the region more secure and prosperous, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said.
“We welcome all proposals for regional cooperation. We have a principle, which says regional cooperation should be inclusive and not against anyone. All regional countries should be part of this cooperation. I mean Persian Gulf states and other countries in our vicinity such as Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Jordan should work together,” he told the Iraqi al-Forat satellite TV network in an interview aired on Saturday.
Zarif made the statements when asked about a proposal by Ammar al-Hakim, the head of National Wisdom Movement of Iraq, for regional talks among Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, IRNA reported.
“It is a good suggestion to begin with,” the chief diplomat said, adding that it would be helpful if it prepares the ground for an inclusive regional cooperation, according to Financial Tribune.
He hailed the outcome of Iran’s joint work with Turkey and Russia to help resolve the years-long civil war in Syria and said it proves that disputes can be solved through regional dialogue.
The foreign minister noted that Iran has always been willing to hold talks with Saudi officials but they have not responded positively to requests for negotiations on bilateral and regional matters.
“Whenever they are ready, Iran is ready,” he said.
Tensions between the two regional powers have surged in recent years, with Saudi Arabia and Iran supporting opposite sides in the conflict in Syria and rival political parties in Iraq and Lebanon. They have also adopted different approaches to the conflict in Yemen.
Riyadh severed diplomatic relations after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran following the execution of a prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in the Arab country in January 2016.
Saudi authorities have also welcomed US President Donald Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from an international nuclear agreement with Iran and reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran.
Zarif said Iran’s policies have never been against any other state and it has never attempted to “eliminate” the kingdom or any other Muslim country from regional calculations.
“The region should determine its own destiny,” he said, adding that Tehran has never been in talks with outsiders to impose a decision on the region.
He also noted that “extremism” is a common threat, which can be confronted through collective effort.
Pressure on Iraq
On US pressure on Baghdad to reduce ties with Tehran, the top diplomat said the long-standing relationship and cooperation between the two countries is crucial for regional security and development, and cannot be undermined.
“Iraq and Iran have strong trade ties. How can the Americans impose their will on the Iraqi people and compel them to cut this mutually beneficial relationship?”
Zarif arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to prepare for Monday’s visit by President Hassan Rouhani, which is meant to further strengthen economic links between the two neighboring countries.
Asked about the possibility of America returning to the nuclear deal if Trump is not reelected in 2020, the minister said, “I do not know what the Americans plan to do, but we make decisions based on our own interests, not US policies.”
Dialogue With US?
On the prospects of talks with the US president, Zarif said, “Dialogue needs to have a basis, which is respect. If you do not honor your previous commitments, you will not respect any other agreement. So I do not believe that talks will be beneficial. I have always favored dialogue, but it should have a basis.”
He added that Trump is mistaken, if he thinks he can get a better agreement to replace the present one.
Zarif also ruled out seeking presidency in 2020.
“I will definitely not stand as a candidate in the elections,” he said.