Addressing the Second Tehran Security Conference on Monday, Zarif said, “As to the ways and means to attain the optimal security situation, we should first and foremost rely on dialogue and confidence-building measures.”
“It is obvious that at all levels in our region we are facing a dialogue deficit. Aspects of this problem are visible at all levels in the region: between the ruling and the ruled at the national level, between governments at the official inter-regional level and between peoples at the unofficial inter-regional level,” he added.
He also noted that dialogues in the Middle East “should first and foremost seek to promote mutual understanding and knowing each other in general before seeking to address any particular issue or reaching any particular agreement.”
Here is the full text of his English speech:
In the Name of God, the Compassionate the Merciful
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you to the Islamic Republic of Iran to participate in the Second Tehran Security Conference. I hope that you will have a constructive and meaningful discussions and exchange of views in this Conference. I also hope that those who have arrived from outside Iran can have a pleasant stay in Tehran.
The Second Tehran Security Conference is held at a time when West Asia is going through one of its most difficult times. Violent extremism, which embroiled our region in one of its most tumultuous periods of its history, is on decline. Daesh, as the most petrifying representative of this scourge, is militarily suppressed, its self-proclaimed and false Caliphate destroyed and the territory under its control, occupied through boundless violence and terror, liberated. In the past six years, the peoples and governments of Iraq and Syria heroically resisted the violent extremist groups, especially Daesh, and achieved major victories. We are pleased that we could stand by these two friendly and brotherly nations in this historic fight.
In this period of time between the collapse of Daesh and the formation of an optimal security environment in the region, we and other regional actors are facing three major challenges, namely, first, ability to correctly grasp the current realities on the ground, second, arriving at a common understanding about the optimal condition for the region and third, ways and means to reach this optimal condition:
- Current realities
- Despite crippling defeats inflicted upon Daesh and other terrorist groups in the past one to two years, and the collapse the false caliphate project and the destruction of the military – administrative apparatus of Daesh, their terror system is, however, still at work. Due to their extensive networks in different countries, including in West and Central Asia, especially in Afghanistan, and in North Africa, they have still a regional and global reach and, therefore, should still be considered a serious threat. Thus, the continued fight against the traces of this dangerous ideology in Syria and Iraq, precluding the spreading of extremism into new areas, eradicating its ideological roots and the cutting of its financial resources should still be a priority.
- Respect for national frontiers and the nation-state system, undermined by the terrorist groups and takfiri ideologies, should be restored as a matter of priority. Perpetuation of disregard for the nation-state system would certainly stoke the centrifugal tendencies in political units of several states and will result in nothing but more tension and instability.
- Preserving national coherence and territorial integrity of the countries in the region is imperative. Ethnic restiveness in Syria and Iraq, implicated with secessionist inclination, constitutes a threat for the region and the whole world. That should be prudently dealt with by national and local authorities through dialogue and on the basis of mutual respect, national sovereignty, territorial integrity and national constitutions, and turned into cooperation and convergence.
- The reconstruction of Iraq and Syria is one of the major issues that the international community should take up at this period. The speedy launching of this important process will have a major impact on the political stabilization of the whole region and the total defeat of extremism. It should be undertaken with a view to helping people and establishing peace and be devoid of any effort to advance political and factional agenda.
- The continuance of aggression against the oppressed people of Yemen, including indiscriminate aerial raids and extensive war crimes against civilians, is another major source of tension in the region. Following 33 months of senseless bombing campaign, aggressors should have realized by now that this crisis has no military solution and the parties to it have no way out other than engaging in dialogue to reach a national consensus to resolve the crisis.
- The US policies and its intervention in the region have been the major challenge that has fueled current crises and made them more complicated. The US continues to ignore the concrete realities in the region, and persists in its destabilizing and destructive policies such as maintaining its illegal military presence in Syria.
- The occupation of Palestine remains the most critical issue facing the region and the whole world. All regional issues are influenced directly or indirectly by this major threat to the entire region and the cruelty imposed on the Palestinian people for the past 70 years. Through the recognition of Al-Quds as the capital of the illegitimate Zionist regime, the US once more reasserted its open enmity against the Muslims and Islamic countries, and thereby provided another opportunity to extremism and terrorism to regrow.
- Optimal Security Condition for the Region
Security issues and tensions should be dealt with and discussed while having a vision in mind and endeavoring towards creating an optimal security condition in the region. To this end, two ideas, namely “strong region” and “security networking” could be a basis for a new paradigm in West Asia.
- Strong Region
Efforts made towards creating “strong region” instead of seeking hegemony and trying to exclude other actors is rooted in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic vision for our region. It emanates from the recognition of the imperative of respect for the interest of all stakeholders in the Persian Gulf region and the application of the win-win rule to our region. On this basis, ensuring the interest of each country depends on safeguarding the interests of all and every country in the region. Any domineering effort by any country in the region, aimed at excluding competitors and becoming the hegemon is not only inappropriate but it is essentially impossible too. Three decades of accumulated experience following the end of the Cold War and the strategic conditions in the transition to post-Western world have proven that aiming to achieve hegemonic status at the global or regional levels is not only fruitless but also dangerous. Although competitions among nations for socio-economic development and towards a higher level of welfare and peace of mind for their citizens is not inappropriate, efforts to attain ascendancy and hegemony are inherently destabilizing from a geopolitical and geostrategic perspective and create fundamental impediments for national development. Such rivalries create a vicious circle that will allow no country to win. Other regions have been able to reach peace and development only after they left behind destructive and domination-seeking rivalries and showed genuine tendency for cooperation. Countries in our region are destined to coexist by the rule of geography. While at the same time, shared history, culture and religion make such cooperation and coexistence not only imperative but also pleasant and rewarding. Our power and capability depend on our efforts to strengthen our regional community of nations. Any attempt by any of us to gain security and ascendance at the expense of others would enfeeble all of us.
Arms race is an example and outcome of such destructive rivalry. The military expenditure by our neighbors in the Persian Gulf region as a percentage of GDP is the highest in the world. Last year the military expenditures of GCC members amounted to a total of 116 billion dollars, which not only created more tension and fueled more distrust, but also wasted peoples’ vital resources, syphoning them into the coffers of lethal arms manufacturers. At the time when our region faces a full spectrum of such acute problems as terrorism, extremism, environmental crises like dust storms and drought, migration and the failure of governments to deliver, destructive arms race and tension among neighbors impose further cost on peoples in the region and exacerbate problems.
No country can secure itself at the cost of endangering its neighbors’ security. Such an idea is nothing other than a dangerous delusion in our current inter-connected world. Our experience in this region in the past four decades has proven that any such attempt first and foremost haunt those who seek to bring wars and bloodshed on their neighbors. The experience with Saddam, the Taliban and Daesh, among those still fresh in our minds, are undeniable facts.
- Security Networking
Given the current inter-connected world and the special condition of our Persian Gulf region, which has experienced the most bitter and destructive crises in the past four decades, engaging in bloc-formations and alliances have proven to be inefficient, as each power bloc forewarns a forthcoming crisis and aggression. On the other hand, differences in size, population and economic and military strength creates permanent concerns and reliance on foreign powers, resulting in the illusion of buying security that leads only to insecurity and the increase in distrust. At the same time, attempts aimed to create collective security regime is unrealistic and leads to failure.
It seems that security networking, based on synergy and inclusion, is the only way out of this dangerous vicious circle. In this security networking, all big and small regional States participate on the basis of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, including sovereign equality of States, refrainment from the threat or use of force, peaceful resolution of conflicts, respect for territorial integrity of States, non-intervention in the domestic affairs of States and respect for self-determination of States by their own peoples.
Security networking doesn’t necessarily mean setting aside differences or overlooking historic problems. It is merely a means for managing them while precluding enmities as well as inefficient and destabilizing alliances. In this framework, the regional States, be they large or small, predicate themselves on security networking to cooperate with a view to creating a lasting arrangement for securing the region while rejecting any sort of hegemony by regional and supra–regional powers. Such an approach leads to the promotion of cooperation among the regional States and the creation of opportunities for all towards strengthening one’s security and stability as a supplement for the security and stability of its neighbors’. Based on this approach, in the current inter-connected world, the security of one country or a group of countries cannot be ensured without the security of others.
Within this conceptual and operational framework, hegemonic tendencies, unilateralism, confrontation and exclusion that lie in part at the root of the current difficulties in international relations, will lose any appeal. This framework also helps replace the inefficient and destabilizing doctrine of balance of power or reliance on military power blocs and dangerous and costly arms race with security networking, which is based on participation and the promotion of cooperation in the areas of common interests as well as dialogue on areas of difference of interest and opinion.
- Ways and Means to attain optimal security situation
As to the ways and means to attain the optimal security situation, we should first and foremost rely on dialogue and confidence-building measures. It is obvious that at all levels in our region we are facing a dialogue deficit. Aspects of this problem are visible at all levels in the region: between the ruling and the ruled at the national level, between governments at the official inter-regional level and between peoples at the unofficial inter-regional level.
Given the tremendous problems existing at the national and regional levels, our governments are in need of assuring dialogues now more than any time in the past. These dialogues should first and foremost seek to promote mutual understanding and knowing each other in general before seeking to address any particular issue or reaching any particular agreement. They should aim to make clear to the parties that we all have, more or less, similar concerns, fears, aspirations and hopes. We are not only destined to live together by the rule of geography but also based on common history, culture and religion on the one hand and common opportunities and challenges on the other, we could benefit from dialogue and positive interaction towards advancing the interests of our peoples. Such dialogues must replace rhetoric, slogans, rants and useless propaganda statements that we fire at each other through our media.
- Confidence Building Measures
In the past several years, tensions, aggressions and numerous wars in the region as well as destructive activities of terrorist groups have led to what I can describe as mutual-trust crisis among the regional States. Dialogue as I described earlier is one of the most important instruments for removing mistrust. Nonetheless, in addition to face-to-face dialogue, we need in some cases to adopt certain measures to decrease the level of concerns. Such measures are sometimes imperative for preventing tensions from rising, excluding or decreasing tension-creating factors and, more importantly, preventing clashes due to accidents or miscalculations. This way, we should be able to increase the predictability of regional actors’ behaviors and, accordingly, decrease the concern over any possible surprising actions by any regional actor.
Exchange of information in all areas tops all confidence-building measures. The main purpose of exchange of information is to inform counterparts about the objectives and aims and preclude misunderstandings and misconceptions. These measures may include, though not limited to, avoiding to make provocative statements or take provocative actions, exchange of officials, servicemen or civilians, for several weeks or months to confer with counterparts, undertaking confidence-building measure in border areas, where there is tension or concern over the movements of extremists, and finally, jot lines, making direct contact between high-ranking officials of States with tense relationship possible.
In the field of people-to-people contact, we may look into joint cooperation in a multitude of fields including promoting tourism and particularly Halal tourism, student exchanges, research trips, organizing sport competitions, encouraging businessmen to meet and engage with counterparts, encouraging artists to be in touch with one another and stage performances in different regional states, exchange of movies and TV series, thus enabling peoples to get acquainted with each other’s way of life, reviewing school textbooks aimed at excluding negativity and including positive contents about neighbors.
Cooperation in the areas of common interest and concern such as dealing with natural disasters, fighting sectarianism and extremism, empowering the youth and women to participate in different fields of social life are more confidence-building measures in which regional states could engage. All these measures could be followed up through the establishment of joint committees and task forces.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The principle of “the constructive interaction with the world”, based on rationality and moderation, which involves constructive dialogue, participation and cooperation on the basis of common interests and mutual respect as well as win-win pattern in the interaction with others has formed the foundation of President Rouhani’s foreign policy. The nuclear deal is a product of this foreign policy. Its full implementation has so far played a major role in decreasing tension and promoting peace and stability in our region. The adherence by all to this important agreement would further help all of us move in the right direction.
As the first step towards the new paradigm of security networking in a strong and stable region, the Islamic Republic of Iran proposed to create a “Regional Dialogue Forum” in the Persian Gulf right after the conclusion of the JCPOA. This forum can be used as an instrument for helping organize and advance dialogue at all formal and informal levels in the Persian Gulf region, and while encouraging inter-governmental and formal dialogue, it could also promote dialogue between scholars and thinkers in the civil society. In the same framework, regional States can conduct preliminary consultations on how to implement confidence-building measures.
I hope that the discussions in the Second Tehran Security Conference can contribute to collective thinking and action for creating and advancing a new conceptual paradigm for security in this sensitive and volatile region. I wish you all success in the discussions that you will have throughout the day.