Pakistan wants regional issues resolved via diplomatic engagement, Qureshi tells Iranian counterpart
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad on Friday assured his visiting Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, of Pakistan's continued efforts towards reducing tension in the region amid a simmering crisis between Tehran and Washington, Radio Pakistan reported.
Zarif arrived in the capital on Thursday night on a critically timed two-day visit ahead of next week's emergency Arab League meeting called by Saudi Arabia over regional tensions. The purpose of the visit was not made public, but there has been speculation that Iran is looking to Islamabad and its close relationship with Riyadh to help deescalate the situation.
The Iranian foreign minister was expected to hold meetings with Qureshi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, and to brief top Pakistani leadership on current regional developments, Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
Zarif, upon his arrival in the capital, told IRNA that Tehran seeks stronger ties with Islamabad and that "developing strong relations with our immediate neighbours is on the top of Iranian foreign policy."
Qureshi and Zarif are expected to discuss bilateral ties, border security issues, and recent US-Iran tensions, Radio Pakistan reported.
During delegation-level talks between the Pakistani and Iranian sides today, Qureshi noted that regional tension was in no one's interest.
He stated that Pakistan wants resolution of all outstanding issues through diplomatic engagement and said that stakeholders need to demonstrate patience and tolerance, Radio Pakistan reported.
Zarif assured Qureshi that Iran "gives value" to Islamabad's efforts to establish peace in the region.
Both sides expressed satisfaction over the implementation of decisions made during Prime Minister Imran's recent visit to Iran and agreed to continue cooperation on bilateral matters, according to Radio Pakistan.
Zarif also met Prime Minister Imran where they talked about bilateral relations between Iran and Pakistan, Radio Pakistan reported. The meeting was also attended by Qureshi.
The Iranian foreign minister also met Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, where they discussed regional situation and matters of mutual interest, an Inter-Services Public Relations press statement said. During the meeting, Gen Bajwa said that war was not in anyone's interest all sides should make efforts to keep the region free of conflicts.
The Iranian foreign minister also met National Assembly Speaker Qaiser where the two stressed on the importance of promoting bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran. Qaiser insisted that joint efforts were needed to eliminate terrorism from the region. He added that friendly relations with Iran were essential for the prosperity of the people of both countries.
Zarif said that Iran values its "historic" relations with Pakistan, adding that both countries have a similar outlook over a number of issues. He further said the Tehran considered Islamabad as its "partner" in establishing peace in the region. He stressed on the need to promote economic trade relations.
Yesterday, Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal had said that issues between Iran and the US, plus its Arab allies, had to be resolved through dialogue.
"We believe the situation in the region is serious and needs to be addressed through dialogue by all parties. We expect all sides to show restraint, as any miscalculated move can transmute into a large-scale conflict," the spokesman had said.
Zarif, who has visited Islamabad twice already since Imran Khan was elected prime minister, said he was in Islamabad with a proposal for the Pakistani government to form a connection between Chabahar and Gwadar, IRNA reported.
The Iranian foreign minister said that when he was in Chabahar, the province's governor and administrative officials were "insisting" that Chabahar and Gwadar are two complementary ports, according to IRNA.
"We believe Chabahar and Gwadar complement each other, and we can connect Chabahar and Gwadar, and then through that, can connect Gwadar to our entire rail road system from Iran to north corridor through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey also," Zarif said.
'Regional players must oppose sanctions for own interests'
Zarif, while speaking to IRNA upon his arrival in Islamabad, said that the "international community has to take practical steps to stop this American aggressive approach".
The Iranian foreign minister claimed that Washington's bullying approach was evident through its conduct with Iran and China, and warned that if the international community failed to stop the US from pursuing its hegemonic policies, the "world's control would go into the hands of those who don't believe in laws," IRNA reported.
He said that international and regional actors "must play a proactive role for the stability of the region".
"Regional states have to stand against the sanctions for their own interests," he was quoted by IRNA as saying.
Zarif was received at the airport by Iran's ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost, and senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, IRNA reported. This is the Iranian foreign minister's tenth visit to Pakistan since his appointment in 2013.
Zarif has been criticised by name this week by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who named him and President Hassan Rouhani as failing to implement the leader's orders over Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Khamenei had claimed the deal had “numerous ambiguities and structural weaknesses” that could damage Iran.
Khamenei's criticism of Zarif signalled a hardline tilt in how the Islamic Republic will react going forward amid President Donald Trump's maximalist pressure campaign.
Tensions have ratcheted up recently in the Mideast as the White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.
The crisis takes root in the steady unravelling of the 2015 nuclear deal, intended to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The accord promised economic incentives in exchange for restrictions on Tehran's nuclear activities.
The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year, and subsequently re-imposed and escalated US sanctions on Tehran sending Iran's economy into freefall.
Iran declared earlier this month that the remaining signatories to the deal Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia have two months to develop a plan to shield Iran from American sanctions.
On Monday, Iran announced it had quadrupled its production capacity of low-enriched uranium, making it likely that Tehran will soon exceed the stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord, which would escalate the situation further. Several incidents have added to the crisis.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia said Yemen's Houthi rebels again targeted an airport near its southern border with a bomb-carrying drone. The Saudi military said it intercepted the drone, while the Houthis said it struck a Patriot missile battery at the airport.
The Houthis have claimed three times in recent days to have targeted the airport, which also hosts a military base. It comes after the Houthis last week targeted a Saudi oil pipeline in a coordinated drone attack.
Pakistan was quick to condemn the attacks and promised Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally, its full support. The kingdom this week announced a $3.2 billion deferred oil and gas payment package for energy-strapped Islamabad.
With neighbouring Iran, Pakistan walks a fine line and their relationship is sometimes prickly. Islamabad has little leverage with Washington, although relations between the two have improved since Pakistan expressed readiness to help move talks between the Afghan Taliban and Washington forward.
Meanwhile, Oman's Foreign Ministry said it was working to "ease the tensions" between Iran and the US.
The ministry in a series of tweets on Friday morning attributed the comments to Yusuf bin Alawi, the sultanate's minister of state for foreign affairs, and cited an interview in Asharq Al-Wasat, the London-based newspaper owned by a Saudi media group long associated with the Al Saud royal family.
In the interview, bin Alawi warns war "could harm the entire world if it breaks out".
He doesn't confirm any current Omani mediation but says both the US and Iran realise the gravity of the situation.
Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said spoke last week by telephone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Oman, a nation on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been an interlocutor of the West with Iran.
The US held secret talks in Oman with the Iranians that gave birth to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Additional reporting by Javed Hussain