Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that President Hassan Rohani’s imminent visit to Iraq – his first as Iranian President – would mark the beginning of a new chapter in relations between Tehran and Baghdad.
“Mr. Rohani is visiting Iraq for the first time in his presidential term and we see this visit as a new beginning in our relations with Iraq,” Zarif told Iraqi television channel Al-Forat on Saturday, March 9.
Mr. Zarif referred to the cooperation measures that should be agreed by both sides during the Iranian President’s visit to Iraq and described them as “historic”. “The new areas of cooperation will focus on transit, oil, industry and dredging of the Arvand River,” he added.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani will begin his three-day visit to Iraq on Monday, March 11.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, who arrived in Iraq on Saturday evening, March 9, said that Iran and Iraq share not only a border, but also historical affinities and common interests.
“We intend to exploit these affinities to ensure the common interests of both countries as well as those of the region,” he said.
Iran’s message to the region from Iraq
The Iranian Foreign Minister said that Tehran was trying to send a message to the region during President Rohani’s visit to Iraq.
“In Iraq, we will send a message of regional cooperation. We do not see Iraq as a place of conflict[with Iran’s regional rivals]; we see it as a place of cooperation with countries in the region,” Zarif said.
Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran as its main adversary and has severed its ties with Tehran, considers Iraq as a battle zone where it must fight against Iranian influence.
Zarif also stated that Iran considers Iraq to be “an important pillar of regional security”, without whose cooperation it would be impossible to restore security in the region.
“It is therefore necessary for Iran and Iraq to cooperate, alongside other countries in the region, to[restore] security in the region,” he said.
The Iranian senior diplomat stressed that no country in the region should be excluded from the decision-making process.
United States pushes Iraq to cut ties with Iran
“We do not want Iraq to break off its relations with other countries,” Zarif said. “Unfortunately, it is the Americans who are putting pressure on Iraq not to have neighbourly ties with Iran. »
The Iranian Foreign Minister also thanked the Iraqi people and officials for their “principled position” in favour of Iran and against the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on the Islamic Republic.
Iran welcomes regional talks
Asked about a proposal by Ammar Hakim – the leader of the Iraqi National Wisdom Movement (Hikma) – on regional negotiations between Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Mr. Zarif replied that Iran welcomed “all proposals for regional cooperation”.
“We have a principle: regional cooperation should be inclusive and should not target anyone; all countries in our region should participate in this cooperation,” said the Iranian Foreign Minister.
He explained that by the term “regional countries” he meant the States of the Persian Gulf, as well as more distant countries, such as Egypt and Jordan.
He referred to the cooperation between Iran, Russia and Turkey on the Syrian peace process at the Astana meetings as an example of good regional work.
Who is legitimate in the region?
The Islamic Republic of Iran, he stressed, had however never had any discussions with foreigners on the future of the region and had always affirmed that the fate of the region should be determined by the region itself.
Addressing Saudi Arabia, Zarif said that while Iran had always been ready for dialogue, Riyadh had not shown any such willingness.
The Iranian Foreign Minister recalled that he had sent several messages to Saudi officials, stating that he had been ready to cooperate at the bilateral and regional levels since taking office in 2013, to which the Saudis had replied: “The region is not your concern! »
“It is now clear whether or not the region concerns us! “, said Zarif.
“Iran has effectively contributed to ending the Syrian conflict by offering military consultation assistance in Damascus and has facilitated Syria’s diplomatic process through cooperation with Turkey and Russia. Saudi Arabia, for its part, was one of the countries that financed armed anti-Damascus groups with the aim of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad. »
Discussions with Trump would not be very helpful
Asked about the possibility of initiating discussions with US President Donald Trump, Mr. Zarif said that the dialogue should be based on respect, which Trump lacks.
Last year, Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of a multilateral agreement with Iran when Washington had been involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement.
“If you don’t even respect your own words, you can’t be expected to respect (and maintain) an agreement. Therefore, I do not believe that dialogue[with the Trump administration, editor’s note] would be very useful,” said the head of Iranian diplomacy.