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Iran’s Zarif reaches out to old foe Saudi Arabia
Agence France Presse
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif  holds a press conference at the Iranian embassy in Muscat following meetings with Omani officials on December 2, 2013.  (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED MAHJOUB)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif holds a press conference at the Iranian embassy in Muscat following meetings with Omani officials on December 2, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED MAHJOUB)
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DOHA: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appealed Monday to Saudi Arabia to work with Tehran toward achieving regional “stability,” as he pressed on with a tour seeking rapprochement with Gulf Arab states.

Zarif arrived in Doha after visits to Kuwait and Oman for meetings aimed at assuring officials that a deal Iran secured with world powers on its nuclear program 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 an extremely important country in the region and the Islamic world,” Zarif told AFP 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, which 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.

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

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

Unlike Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, locked in a decadeslong 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 U.S. in the lead-up to the six-month accord on Iran’s nuclear program.

World powers, Arab states of the Gulf and Israel suspect Tehran’s nuclear ambitions include acquiring a atomic bomb, a charge Iran vehemently denies.

The nuclear deal reached in Geneva on Nov. 24 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 toward a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear program, “if there are good intentions.”

Zarif again voiced hopes Monday 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.”

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 program.

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

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

Zarif said in Kuwait City, the first stop of 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,” Zarif said.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 03, 2013, on page 1.
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