x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Iran tells neighbours 'We'll never use force against you'

Regional security conference in Manama hears Iran insist that it will not stop enriching nuclear fuel.

MANAMA // Iran sought to reassure its regional neighbours yesterday that it would not use force against them, because they are Muslims.

"We have never used our force against our neighbours and never will because our neighbours are Muslims," said Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, at a regional security conference in Bahrain's capital, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, that was attended by many Gulf and western leaders.

Highlighting the ties between Iran and the Arab world, Mr Mottaki said the Islamic Republic had a "special role" to play in guaranteeing international security in the field of energy, but insisted that Iran would not stop enriching nuclear fuel.

Mr Mottaki's reiteration of Iran's longstanding position that it has a right to develop peaceful nuclear energy came two days before the start of talks in Geneva on its nuclear programme with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Amid the intense diplomacy at the meeting, there was also time for celebration and reflections on the significance of Qatar's stunning victory last week in winning the bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Foreign Minister, told the conference that Qatar's win of the 2022 World Cup bid, the first for the GCC, showed that national and regional security consists of more than just military defence: "Qatar's win shows that security comes not from erecting fences or walls." Sheikh Abdullah continued that "openness and engagement with the international community is beneficial to everyone's security," whether through sport, diplomacy or trade.

"Qatar's victory shows that nothing is impossible when a country is forward looking and focused on development," he added.

There was also reflection on a problem that has nagged the region for decades: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Jordan's King Abdullah II said Palestinian-Israeli peace talks must be revived to ensure stability in the region and around the world. "Our region will not enjoy security and stability unless we solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Arabs, Muslims and Israelis find peace," the king said.

However, it was Iran's controversial nuclear programme that dominated the first two days of the conference.

Mr Motakki reached out to Iran's Arab neighbours, scorning the efforts of powers outside the Middle East to address the region's troubles one day after the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton called on Iran to live up to its security obligations on behalf of both her nation and the nations of the Middle East.

"The presence of foreign powers will not help to establish security in the region," said the foreign minister, calling on GCC to "indigenise" the task of dealing with conflicts.

Mrs Clinton said on Friday that US concerns over Tehran's nuclear programme are shared by Iran's neighbours in the Gulf.

Other ministers, including the UK's secretary of defence, Liam Fox, joined Mrs Clinton in pushing Iran on its obligations under international treaties to be transparent over the aims of its nuclear programme.

In his remarks, Sheikh Abdullah also called for an end to conflicts in Yemen and Afghanistan as a way of protecting the region against extremism, saying that extremism was the biggest threat to the GCC.

"Extremism feeds on a lack of hope and opportunity," he said, and called on Gulf countries to cooperate in pursuing economic development as a way to thwart its growth.

These discussions are likely to continue this week, as the UAE prepares to host the annual GCC summit, where security is likely again to top the agenda.

* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse