Zarif urges Mideast dialogue to end ‘needless tensions’
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Zarif urges Mideast dialogue to end ‘needless tensions’

Iranian FM calls on Arab countries to work with Tehran for good of region, says nuclear deal a ‘gain’ for everyone

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers a speech during a press conference in Kuwait City on July 26, 2015 (Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers a speech during a press conference in Kuwait City on July 26, 2015 (Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP)

As Tehran seeks to ease regional fears over its foreign policy after signing a nuclear deal with world powers last month, Iran’s foreign minister called on Arab countries to work with Tehran for the good of the Middle East.

In a column published Monday in Lebanon’s Arabic daily As-Safir, Mohammad Javad Zarif urged Arab leaders to engage in regional dialogue toward resolving a number of ongoing Mideast conflicts, including the crises in Yemen and Syria.

The top Iranian diplomat said the Vienna agreement “does not hurt our neighbors but is rather a gain for all our region by putting an end to needless tensions that lasted 12 years.

“Permanent security cannot be achieved by endangering the security of others,” he wrote, proposing setting up a regional gathering for dialogue whose aim would be to respect each country’s sovereignty and independence.

According to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, Zarif also proposed a region-wide initiative aimed at promoting nuclear nonproliferation across the Middle East.

The nuclear deal signed between Iran and six world powers last month has troubled Gulf states, which remain wary of Iran’s nuclear and military ambitions.

Zarif echoed his calls for Arab unity while on a visit to the Gulf last week, where he called on Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbors to cooperate against the common threat of “terrorism, extremism and sectarianism.”

The foreign minister insisted that Tehran’s regional policy would not change, and that in order to spur cooperation in the region, it was up to other states to change their policies, not the Islamic Republic.

“Our message to the countries of the region is that we should cooperate to face the common threat,” Zarif told reporters after meeting Kuwaiti officials on his first foreign trip since the nuclear deal with world powers.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry before their meeting at the Diwan Palace on August 3, 2015 in Doha. (AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / POOL)
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry before their meeting at the Diwan Palace on August 3, 2015 in Doha. (AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / POOL)

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Qatar for talks with Arab officials to bring the Obama administration’s case for the Iran nuclear deal to wary Arab officials in Qatar on Monday.

Kerry arrived in the Qatari capital on Sunday after visiting Egypt, where he also spoke in favor of the agreement reached with Iran in Vienna. In Cairo, Kerry acknowledged Iran’s negative role but said it would be easier to deal with if Tehran cannot develop a nuclear weapon.

“Iran is engaged in destabilizing activities in the region — and that is why it is so important to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains wholly peaceful,” he told reporters at news conference with Egypt’s foreign minister. “There can be absolutely no question that the Vienna plan, if implemented, will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be.”

Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia have been quick to voice concern about the agreement, which will see a progressive easing of international sanctions on Iran in place since 2006.

They fear that the deal could bolster their Shiite-dominated adversary, which stands accused of interfering in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Asked if Iran will change its policy in Syria and Iraq following the deal, Zarif said Iran has been at the forefront in fighting against the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda, and its timely interference prevented the fall of Baghdad and Erbil to the Islamic State group.

In addition to Iran, Kerry and the Arab ministers are expected to look closely at the situation in Syria and Iraq, which continue to be ravaged by conflict and the spread of the Islamic State extremist group, as well as Yemen.

AFP contributed to this report.

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