Iran's Zarif reaches out to old foe Saudi

AFP , Monday 2 Dec 2013

Iran breaks the ice by reaching out to Saudi Arabia following landmark nuclear deal

Kuwait City
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks with Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid al Sabah during a working luncheon in Kuwait City 1 December, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appealed Monday to Saudi Arabia to work with Tehran toward achieving regional "stability", as he pressed a tour seeking rapprochement with Gulf Arab states.

Zarif arrived in Doha after visits to Kuwait and Oman for meetings aimed at assuring top officials that a deal Iran secured with world powers on its disputed nuclear programme is in their interest.

During his stopover in the Omani capital Muscat, Zarif called on Saudi Arabia to jointly work with Iran to resolve regional issues.

"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," Zarif told AFP on Monday.

"We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together in order to promote peace and stability in the region."

Zarif 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," Zarif said after he met with Sultan Qaboos.

Later in Qatar, Zarif held talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the official QNA news agency reported.

They "discussed bilateral relations and means of developing them as well as matters of mutual interest," said QNA, without giving details on the unscheduled visit.

Unlike Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, locked in a decades-long rivalry with Shiite-dominated Iran, Oman maintains good relations with Tehran.

Sultan Qaboos has acted as an intermediary between Western countries and the Islamic republic in the past few 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 24 November was welcomed by the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states, which have long been concerned about Iran's regional ambitions.

But the Saudi government reacted cautiously, saying the deal could mark the first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran's nuclear programme, "if there are good intentions".

Zarif on Monday again voiced hopes to "soon" visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, 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 (God willing)."

Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers, meeting in Kuwait City last week, expressed hopes that the interim deal would lead to a permanent agreement on Iran's nuclear programme.

The GCC is led by OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates.

After his election in July, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said he wanted to improve relations with neighbouring countries, especially Gulf states.

Zarif said in Kuwait City, the first stop in his tour, 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 quoted him as saying.

Iran was "not planning to deceive the world," added Zarif.

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