ISLAMABAD: The Iranian envoy on Thursday asked Pakistan to look for ways to bypass American sanctions for increasing its bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Iran.
Iranian Ambassador Seyyed Mohammed Ali Hosseini was delivering a lecture on ‘Pak-Iran Peace and Security Cooperation’ at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI).
The ambassador’s lecture covered a wide range of issues, including the bilateral agenda, the situation in the Middle East, efforts for peace in Afghanistan, and even issues rarely discussed publicly like the participation of certain Pakistanis in the fight against militant Islamic State group or Daesh in Syria.
The envoy said Iran wanted to expand ties with Pakistan in all spheres, especially trade. Iran, he said, has already expressed its desire to become a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor either in the bilateral or trilateral format. US sanctions, he believed, were, however, the main factor preventing the progress on the economic front.
Iran had earlier worked out a financial mechanism with the European Union to circumvent sanctions, but that did not work.
Pakistan and Iran had committed to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion per annum, open banking channels for facilitating trade and initiate ferry service. However, there has been little progress in this direction because of the US sanctions on Iran. Similarly, Pakistan has not been able to activate the long due Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
He said the two countries have intensified cooperation on border security, the other thorny areas in the ties, and the situation at the borders was much better than before. “Pakistan and Iran are much closer now than before due to sincere efforts of Prime Minister Imran Khan,” he said.
The envoy appreciated Pakistan for not succumbing to pressures with regards to its relations with Iran. There have been a lot of pressure on Islamabad, and that continues even now, but Pakistan has withstood all of that, he said.
On efforts for peace in the Middle East and Pakistani mediation initiative, Mr Hosseini said Iran was ready to initiate dialogue with Saudi Arabia to address each other’s concerns, but so far there was no positive response from Riyadh. “However, we have not lost hope as yet,” he maintained.
He said Iran was open to participating in dialogue with the Saudis anywhere, including Riyadh. Mr Hosseini praised Pakistani role for peace in Afghanistan as positive and constructive.
Peace in Afghanistan
Responding to a question about US-Taliban talks, he cast aspersions on US intentions for peace in Afghanistan saying Iran expects no good from the US. He called for participation of all Afghan stakeholders in the peace process and said that Tehran considers the Afghan government as the “main axis of dialogue”.
He rejected US President Donald Trump’s Middle East initiative, also called as the Deal of Century, as a “heinous design”.
In response to a question about Iran’s involvement with Pakistani Shias, who allegedly travelled to Syria for defence of the shrine of Hazrat Syeda Zainab, granddaughter of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), the ambassador said that Tehran did not encourage anyone to go there for defending the shrine. Some people, he said, did go there out of their love for the family of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
Mr Hosseini said Iran otherwise did not need any human resource for the defence of the shrine from Daesh. “We had enough people to defend the shrine even without support of people from other countries,” he said.
In response to another query, he said Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria in the fight against Daesh was in advisory capacity. He said the respect for sovereignty of Syria and Iraq was ensured while Iran performed that role.
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020