ISLAMABAD: In a bid to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf, Pakistan has taken an initiative by assuming the role of a ‘facilitator’, inviting both Iran and Saudi Arabia to Islamabad for a dialogue.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during his official visit to Tehran on Sunday a couple of days before proceeding to Jeddah, said: “In the past, Pakistan had hosted Saudi Arabia and Iran and is again willing to facilitate the brotherly countries to iron out their differences.”
Mr Khan said it was his own initiative to act as a “facilitator as nobody had asked me to do so”.
Addressing a joint press conference along with President Rouhani, PM Khan said: “The issue [of Saudi Arabia and Iran relations] is a complex one, but it is possible to sort out differences through dialogue.”
Mr Khan expressed gratitude to the Iranian president for supporting the people of Kashmir, as eight million Kashmiris have been put under curfew for the past two months. “I really want to thank the way Iran spoke out for this big humanitarian disaster that is unfolding,” he added.
He said it was his third meeting with President Rouhani during which they discussed bilateral relationship, trade and that how both countries could help each other. “We have very old ties with Iran. Pakistan still remembers how Iran stood with us in 1965 when Pakistan was facing hostilities,” he added.
Imran meets Khamenei, Rouhani in Tehran
Talking about Iran-Saudi sour relations, the prime minister said: “We recognised that it is a complex issue, but we feel that this can be resolved through dialogue. What should never happen is a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran because this will not only affect the two countries but also the whole region. It will also cause poverty in the world as oil prices will go up and countries which should spend on human welfare will end up buying expensive oil,” he added.
He said it was not from Pakistan’s point of view but from all developing countries that they did not allow any conflict to take place. “We know there are some vested interests who want this conflict to take place,” he added.
He said the main reason of his visit to Iran was to avoid any new conflict in the region. “Mr President, the main reason I came over with a delegation is that we do not want a conflict in this region. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties in the war on terror. Afghanistan is also suffering. Syria … terrible devastation is taking place there. We do not want conflict in this part of the world,” he added.
Mr Khan said he was also going to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and that was purely Pakistan’s initiative as no one had asked Pakistan to do so. “Because it is imperative that we do not allow this conflict to take place and I again repeat that there is a vested interest which wants it to happen,” he maintained.
The prime minister said his meeting with President Rouhani was encouraging and that he would go to Saudi Arabia with a positive mind. He made it clear that he would act as a “facilitator and not a mediator”.
The prime minister thanked President Rouhani for inviting him to Iran and later met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Expressing his willingness to resolve issues between the US and Iran, Mr Khan said: “When we were in New York, President Trump spoke to me and asked us to facilitate some sort of dialogue between Iran and the US.”
While sharing details of his meeting with President Rouhani, he said: “We discussed things in detail. I know some difficulties were involved but whatever we can do to facilitate the dialogue [we will] so that sanctions are lifted and nuclear deal is signed between the two countries [Iran and the US]… Iran has certain issues about it. This is an ongoing process and if we can help we will facilitate in future.”
On the occasion, President Rouhani said they openly welcomed the goodwill gesture and ready to assist Pakistan in its efforts for peace and stability in the region. He expressed the hope that PM Khan’s visit would have benefits, as they discussed a variety of issues significant for the region and the whole globe.
The Iranian president said they had discussed the recent developments in the Gulf and emphasised on supporting peace and stability in the region. “We also emphasised that goodwill gesture would be responded with goodwill gesture and words,” he added.
President Rouhani noted that termination of war in Yemen and humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen would help bring peace and stability in the region. He said the issue could be resolved through talks.
While decrying the pressing sanctions on Iran by the US, the president sought immediate lifting of the sanctions and demanded that the US must return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, so that it could be implemented.
Earlier upon arrival at the airport, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif received Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Special Assistant to PM Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari and senior officials.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2019