Iran seeks new regional dialogue, but not with Israel
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Iran seeks new regional dialogue, but not with Israel

Speaking at Munich security meeting, FM Zarif says Islamic Republic proposes discourse 'only with countries we call brothers in Islam'

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking at the 53rd Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, February 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Christof Stache)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking at the 53rd Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, February 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Christof Stache)

Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday called for Middle Eastern powers, even rival Sunni states, to work together to resolve regional problems, but ruled out any collaboration with Israel, saying that Tehran wanted dialogue only “with countries we call brothers in Islam.”

Zarif was speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, where he had originally been scheduled to speak in the same session as Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

“We need to address common problems and perceptions that have given rise to anxieties and the level of violence in the region,” he said, adding that Iran wanted to spearhead the regional effort.

Asked if the region-wide dialogue he was proposing could include Israel, Zarif was noticeably cold.

“On regional dialogue, I’m modest and I’m focusing on the Persian Gulf,” he said. “We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue only with countries we call brothers in Islam.”

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who also spoke at the conference Sunday, wrote on Twitter that is was “absurd” that Zarif, a representative of “Iran, which supports terror, funds Hezbollah and perpetrates attacks in Europe” had been “legitimized” by being allowed to speak at the high-level forum.

Zarif also brushed aside new pressure from the United States over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, declaring that his country was “unmoved by threats” but responds well to respect.

US President Donald Trump arrives at a meeting with members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
US President Donald Trump at a meeting with members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 16, 2017. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 nuclear agreement Iran signed with the US and five other world powers. His administration said Iran was “on notice” over a recent ballistic missile test, and imposed new sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian companies and individuals.

Zarif mocked “the concept of crippling sanctions” saying that “Iran doesn’t respond well to threats. We don’t respond well to coercion. We don’t respond well to sanctions, but we respond very well to mutual respect. We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios.”

Zarif had originally been scheduled to share a platform with Israel’s Liberman but organizers of the Munich Security Conference hurriedly rearranged the agenda for the Sunday morning sessions after Liberman said on Friday evening that he looking forward to publicly clashing with the Iranian foreign minister.

The organizers canceled the 9:45-11:05 a.m. session and replaced it with a series of separate statements, with Zarif’s an hour before Liberman’s and another panel discussion between them. The two men thus did not encounter each other.

Liberman and Zarif had been set to be two of four participants in a session entitled “Old Crises, New Middle East?” which was to have been moderated by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were the other two participants.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on January 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on January 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In an interview from Munich on Friday evening, Liberman indicated he was looking forward to the meeting, saying he hoped Zarif would stay in the room to hear “exactly what I think about the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.”

Liberman said he would state at the session what he had already been telling a succession of defense ministers in meetings at the conference: “The biggest danger to the stability of the entire Middle East is Iran. Iran with all its nuclear plans, and its attempts to blow up every state, and to harm the stability of every country – it doesn’t matter if it is Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, or Israel.”

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