Zarif: Choose your neighbors before your house

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In an op-ed for As-Safir, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reflects on the Iran deal and the way it might shape the region in the medium term.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif provided the following article to As-Safir before his tour of Arab capitals:

According to our traditions and as per our Islamic religion (which brings us [Iranians and Arabs] together), there is a saying that goes: “Choose your neighbors before your house.” It is a wise piece of advice that has guided us over the centuries and has become a necessity nowadays, as well-being and security are of utmost importance for a good environment.

Iran’s top priority is to establish strong ties with its neighbors, which has been implicitly and publicly stated, especially since the formation of the new Iranian government. I toured three neighboring countries to Iran: Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq, right after the historic Iranian nuclear deal that was concluded in Vienna between Iran and P5+1 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany]. The deal is further proof of this Iranian strategy, which has always been a focus in Iranian foreign policy.

Our region is currently going through turmoil, facing serious threats to the foundations of its society and culture. However, Iran — whose people are known for their tolerance and resilience in the face of authoritarian inclinations — is living in stability and security and has provided new avenues for constructive engagement. Iran cannot stand idly by, watching the damage and destruction taking place on its borders, especially since chaos and unrest know no borders and no country is immune to this ripple effect in a world stepping closer to globalization.

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The deal in Vienna was a necessity for the region. It is not only harmless to our neighbors but a gain to our entire region to put an end to the unnecessary tension that lasted for 12 years. The time is ripe to pay attention to more significant actions, namely finding mechanisms to help all the region’s countries to root out tension and its factors.

It is imperative to form a regional platform for dialogue in our region and then among all Islamic countries in the Middle East. Regional dialogue ought to be carried out based on common goals and principles for the region, namely respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all countries — not to violate their borders — to refrain from intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs, settle disputes peacefully, prevent the threat or use of force, strive for peace and stability, and achieve progress and well-being in the region.

We all have to come to terms with the fact that the time of useless ploys has long passed and that we are either winners or losers. Sustainable security is not achieved by harming others’ security. This is our destiny, whether we like it or not. As noted in the Quran: “… and do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient" (Al-Anfal, Verse 46).

Undoubtedly, this necessary cooperation is not like the bitterness between enemies. Rather, it is a bright path toward reform and amicable relations between brothers and the members of one family that have become estranged from one another for some time. “The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allah that you may receive mercy” (Al-Hujurat, Verse 10).

It is important to start carrying out such approaches in our region and in the Middle East in general. It is also equally important to carry out a proper, smart evaluation of the existing complications in the region in order to pursue sustainable policies to address them, and the fight against terrorism is one of the issues to be dealt with. No one can fight extremist groups — such as the so-called Islamic State, which has nothing to do with a state or with Islam — in Iraq at a time when the group is spreading in Yemen and Syria.

If we ought to choose a starting point for serious talks, Yemen would make a good example. Iran suggested a plausible and practical solution to settle this unnecessary and painful crisis. The four-point plan it set forth calls for a cease-fire, sending humanitarian aid to Yemeni civilians, facilitating dialogues between Yemeni groups inside the country and ultimately forming a national unity government.

Two years ago, a similar plan was proposed, following discussions with Syria, some neighboring countries and other players to restore peace and security in Syria. This could be also added to the agenda in addition to the efforts to resolve the Yemeni crisis, in cooperation with other Islamic countries and under UN supervision.

At the same time, these strategic talks could be used to take specific measures to achieve better understanding in order to study and settle issues such as terrorism and extremism, while preventing the outbreak of sectarian wars and diversifying the scientific, industrial and development collaboration to take the relations between the region’s Islamic nations to a higher level.

The nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes could be an outstanding example of this collaboration. Iran as well as all the Middle East’s Islamic countries have the right to benefit from the peaceful nuclear technologies according to international resolutions. All the region’s countries ought to join hands in order to reach these goals. This collaboration includes work in many avenues such as:

  • central nuclear enrichment to general nuclear fuel, which could be done through technical collaboration between the Islamic countries of the region.
  • at the political level, intensifying international efforts to demilitarize the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

In conclusion, we, the countries of the region and the Middle East, have many common denominators in terms of religion, culture, politics and geography. We have what it takes to build constructive and useful cooperation for our people and the people of the world. We face several challenges and our path is fraught with dangers; therefore, we should not let ourselves get carried away with sectarian and personal disputes. Instead, we ought to be courageous and patient and be insightful to achieve such a vital cooperation and collaboration so as to root out crises in our region. We should not bank on those who created the crises in the first place to solve them.

It is our only chance to deal with what is ahead of us. We owe it to our people not to waste this opportunity. “And say, 'Do [as you will], for Allah will see your deeds, and [so will] His Messenger and the believers'” (Al-Tawabah, Verse 105).

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Found in: regional politics, qatar, nuclear deal, mohammad javad zarif, kuwait, iraqi military, iranian nuclear file, is, diplomacy
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