ISLAMABAD: In a day-long visit to Islamabad on Thursday Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made a strong pitch for expanded relations with Pakistan offering greater economic, energy and security cooperation.
Mr Zarif articulated his proposal in meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz and members of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Mr Zarif’s second visit to Islamabad in four months comes against the backdrop of Iran’s successful conclusion of negotiations with the West over its nuclear programme and the expected lifting of nuclear related sanctions. Tehran is, therefore, planning a big push to increase its trade with neighbours and play a larger regional role.
Speaking at the NA Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Zarif said that ties with Pakistan were among the fundamentals of his country’s external relations.
Allaying concerns about Tehran’s strong ties with Delhi, he said: “Our relations with India will not harm those with Pakistan. We cannot sacrifice our relationship with Pakistan for any other country.”
Speaking at a press conference along with Mr Aziz after their talks at the Foreign Office, the Iranian foreign minister said that his country was “eager to expand ties” and that the prospects of cooperation were “massive”.
The two had discussed some of the potential areas where they can collaborate following the end of the sanctions on Iran. These included trade, energy, finance and banking, security, and cooperation on regional matters.
In his speech at the foreign affairs committee, Mr Zarif recalled that Pakistan and Iran had already signed a number of accords for cooperation, but political will was needed to operationalise them.
Mr Aziz almost seconded him and said the preferential trade agreement between the two countries should be fully implemented and both sides should give each other greater access to their markets.
In his meetings throughout the day, Mr Zarif stressed the need for joining hands against extremism and violence and more specifically the Middle Eastern terror group Daesh (self-styled Islamic State), which was rapidly expanding its footprint in neighbouring Afghanistan.
He proposed a trilateral cooperation among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan on security and said that a vital component of this cooperation could be striking at the financial base of terrorism by jointly tackling the narco-trafficking.
“We’ll try to ensure that meaningful economic cooperation would solidify the cultural and political relations,” he said.
Asked about the flagship energy cooperation project — the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline — which had been held up because of sanctions, he said the Iranian government was “interested and determined” to complete it. He hoped that Pakistan could soon find investors who would finance the laying of the pipeline in its territory.
The Chinese are laying about 700kms of the 780kms long pipeline as part of its economic corridor from Nawabshah to Gawadar. The pipeline being laid by the Chinese would also be able to carry the Iranian gas. Pakistan will then need to lay another 80km long pipeline to connect with the Iranian network and start importing the gas.
Mr Zarif said some technical issues remained to be negotiated. The two sides, he said, were communicating over the matter.
A source disclosed to Dawn that Pakistan had sought re-negotiation of the price of the gas.
Mr Zarif lauded the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project saying anything that brings development to Balochistan would be welcomed by Iran.
BORDER COORDINATION: Mr Zarif also touched upon the border security issues and proposed joint operations against terrorists operating in the border region between Pakistan’s Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan province.
He said border incidents happened when terrorists from Pakistan side infiltrated into the Iranian side and attacked civilians and troops.
He called for implementation of the security cooperation agreements and other agreed mechanism for preventing such incidents in future.
Mr Aziz said the situation on the border had been complicated due to the presence of narcotics smugglers.
The Pakistani adviser emphasised on strengthening border mechanisms.
SAUDI ARABIA: Mr Zarif said his country wanted to improve ties with Saudi Arabia, but accused Riyadh of not reciprocating.
“We are open to ties with Saudi Arabia, but they are obsessed with Iran,” he said.
The Iranian foreign minister said Saudis have to realise that the two countries had to co-exist in the region. “Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran could be excluded from the region. They have tried to exclude us,” he added.
Offering to cooperate with Pakistan on regional issues, including Syria and Yemen, he thanked Islamabad for not joining the war in Yemen.
Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee Awais Leghari congratulated Iran on successful conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and P-5 + 1 in Vienna a month ago. He lauded the role of Javad Zarif for leading his country through these difficult negotiations.
Mr Leghari stressed the need to expand the economic cooperation between two countries especially in energy sector. Emphasising on parliamentary exchanges between the two countries, he said: “I believe that a regular exchange of views between parliaments of our two countries would help us share experience on ways and means to promote well-being of our peoples and learn from each other.”
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2015