DOHA // Iran’s foreign minister said he hoped to visit the UAE soon as he pressed a tour seeking rapprochement with Gulf Arab states.
Mohammed Javad Zarif is on a whirlwind tour of the Gulf, holding talks yesterday in Qatar and Oman with top officials aimed at giving assurance that a deal Tehran secured with world powers on its nuclear programme is in their interest. He started the tour in Kuwait on Sunday.
During his stopover in Muscat, Mr Zarif appealed to Saudi Arabia to work together with his government toward achieving regional “stability”.
“I believe that our relations with Saudi Arabia should expand as we consider Saudi Arabia as an extremely important country in the region and the Islamic world,” Mr Zarif said.
“We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together to promote peace and stability in the region.”
He also praised Oman’s role in last month’s negotiations between Iran and world powers including the United States that paved the way for the landmark nuclear deal.
“We expressed our appreciation for the very central and positive role that the sultanate had played in facilitating these talks,” Mr Zarif said after he met Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.
He was to hold talks in Qatar with emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, as well as with his Qatari counterpart Khaled Al Attiyah, an Iranian diplomat in Doha said.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, locked in a decades-long rivalry with Iran, Oman has maintained good relations with Tehran and Sultan Qaboos has acted as an intermediary between Western countries and Iran in recent years.
According to reports, the sultanate hosted secret talks between Iran and the United States in the lead-up to the six-month accord on Iran’s nuclear programme.
World powers, Arab states of the Gulf, and Israel suspect Tehran’s nuclear ambitions include acquiring a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran vehemently denies.
The nuclear deal reached in Geneva on November 24 was welcomed by Gulf states, which have long been concerned about Shiite Iran’s regional ambitions.
The Saudi government, however, reacted cautiously, saying the deal could mark the first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear programme, “if there are good intentions”.
Mr Zarif voiced again his hopes to “soon” visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose foreign minister announced during a visit to Tehran last week that his government was ready to create a joint economic commission with Iran.
“I am ready to go to Saudi Arabia, but it is just a matter of being able to arrange a mutually convenient time. I will visit it soon inshallah.”
GCC foreign ministers, meeting in Kuwait City last week, hoped the interim deal would lead to a permanent agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.
After his election in July, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said he hoped to improve relations with neighbouring countries, especially Gulf states.
Mr Zarif said in Kuwait City that Iran was looking to open a new page in relations with the Gulf.
He reiterated his calls in Oman.
“We feel that relations between countries in the region must be built on mutual trust and friendly ties must be strengthened,” Oman News Agency (ONA) quoted him as saying.
Iran is “not planning to deceive the world”, Mr Zarif said.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s prime minister Nouri Al Maliki will visit Iran on Wednesday to discuss bilateral relations between the two Shiite-majority countries as well as the Syria conflict, Iranian media reported.
The visit will be Mr Al Maliki’s first to Tehran since Mr Rouhani took office.
The IRNA news agency reported that Mr Al Maliki would hold talks with Iranian officials in Tehran while the Fars news agency said he would also visit Mashhad, a holy city for Shiites, during his two day trip.
According to other media reports, the Iraqi delegation will also discuss ongoing work to clear ordnance from the strategic Shatt Al Arab waterway, known in Iran as the Arvand river, which became a front during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
The reports said discussions would centre on the conflict in Syria. Iran is a key ally of the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s regime, while Iraq has suffered from a surge in attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda affiliate that has exploited Syria’s chaos and carried out attacks on both sides of its border with Iraq.
Iraq and Iran are at odds over the next secretary general of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, with both countries fiercely backing their respective candidates in a vote due in Vienna this month.
* Agence France-Presse