‘Message from Iran’: Nuclear deal could open door to regional cooperation

Friday 17/04/2015
His comments will likely raise eyebrows

WASHINGTON - Iran on Monday pushed its call for peace talks to end the fighting in Yemen, and offered assurances that a nuclear deal would pave the way for greater cooperation with its neighbours.

"With courageous leadership and the audacity to make the region decisions, we can and should put this manufactured crisis to rest and move on to much more important work," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote, referring to global suspicions about his country's nuclear program.

His New York Times op-ed piece entitled "A message from Iran" came ahead of new political director talks in Vienna this week as global powers chase a full deal on Iran's nuclear program by a June 30 deadline.

"Iran has been clear: the purview of our constructive engagement extends far beyond nuclear negotiations," Zarif wrote.

"Our rationale is that the nuclear issue has been a symptom, not a cause, of the mistrust and conflict," he argued, adding it was time for "Iran and other stakeholders to begin to address the causes of tension in the wider Persian Gulf region."

"It is not a question of governments rising and falling: the social, cultural and religious fabrics of entire countries are being torn to shreds."

Iran last week presented a four-point peace plan for Yemen to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, demanding international action to end the "senseless" Saudi-led air campaign against Huthi Shiite rebels backed by Tehran.

But Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin on Monday rejected Iran's offer to mediate in the crisis in his war-torn country.

"Iran has become a major part of the Yemeni crisis and those who are a party to the crisis... cannot become mediators," he said.

Zarif argued however in the New York Times that "Iran has offered a reasonable and practical approach to address this painful and unnecessary crisis."

Iran has called for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and intra-Yemeni dialogue leading to the formation of an inclusive, broad-based national unity government.

"One cannot confront Al-Qaeda and its ideological siblings, such as the co-called Islamic state, which is neither Islamic or a state, while effectively enabling their growth in Yemen and Syria," Zarif said.

He also called for a collective forum for dialogue in the Gulf region, involving "relevant regional stakeholders," perhaps under the umbrella of the United Nations, saying it was "long overdue."

Such dialogue would recognize "respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity" as well as the "inviolability of international borders" and "non-interference in internal affairs."

It could lead to wide-ranging agreements on combating terrorism as well as freedom of navigations and the free flow of oil.

"A regional dialogue could eventually include more formal non-aggression and security cooperation arrangements," Zarif suggested.

But predominantly Sunni Gulf nations have long been wary of Shiite Iran's regional ambitions.

And Zarif's comments will likely raise eyebrows both in the Gulf and the US among those who blame Iran for fomenting much of the current unrest in the Middle East, through its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and its backing not just for the Yemeni rebels but also Hezbollah and Hamas militants.