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Ties with Saudi, Turkey top priority: Iran's new FM

Iranian interim Foreign minister number one mission is to boost ties with the regional powers

AFP, Saturday 18 Dec 2010
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Atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi officially took charge on Saturday as Iran's new foreign minister and said Tehran's top priority will be to boost ties with regional power Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Salehi, who oversees Iran's controversial nuclear programme, was named as interim foreign minister after his predecessor, Manouchehr Mottaki, was sacked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on December 13.

"Iran's first priority in diplomacy should be neighbours and the Islamic world. In this regard, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have a special position," Salehi, a fluent Arabic and English speaker, was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency after he took charge of the ministry.

"Saudi Arabia deserves to have special political ties with Iran. Iran and Saudi Arabia, as two effective countries in the Islamic world, can resolve many problems together."

Salehi's remarks about Saudi Arabia are significant after US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed Riyadh obsessed by a threat from Iran. King Abdullah reportedly urged top US officials to destroy Tehran's nuclear programme, telling them "to cut off the head of the snake."

Ties between Iran and Turkey have grown in recent months with Ankara even endorsing a nuclear fuel deal for Tehran in May, along with Brazil.

Turkey is also hosting the next round of talks between Iran and the six world powers in Istanbul, following the last negotiation held in Geneva on December 6 and 7. Turkey has repeatedly called for sustained diplomacy to resolve Iran's nuclear controversy.

"Turkey is a powerful country with strategic position and shares common cultural and ideological grounds with Iran," Salehi said.

Salehi, 61, said Iran and the European Union too would "benefit" if the EU switched its position towards Tehran from "confrontation to engagement as soon as possible."
"Despite some unfair moves by the European Union, this union wants respectful ties with Iran for a number of reasons, including energy," he said.

Salehi also underlined the importance of expanding ties with Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Russia and China.
Salehi took charge at a function that was also the farewell ceremony for Mottaki. However, the 57-year-old Mottaki, who was  sacked while he was on an official visit to Senegal, did not attend.

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