First the neighbor, then the home; simply a piece of ethical advice or a strategic necessity?

Zarif

The Iranian top diplomat said Iran’s first priority is to have solid relations with its neighbors and that policy has been reiterated especially ever since the new government took office.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has published an article in Arabic in four regional newspapers, namely Lebanon’s Assafir, Qatar’s Al-Sharq, Alrai of Kuwait and Ashorooq of Egypt, in which he has described friendly ties with neighboring countries as a priority of the Islamic Republic.

The following is the translation of the article whose Farsi version appeared on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 3:

First the neighbor, then the home is a sagacious piece of advice underscored by the ancient tradition of our region and by the monotheistic religion of Islam, which bonds all of us together. In the modern world, this farsighted piece of advice which dates back 14 centuries is an undeniable imperative. Welfare and security will only be available [to a nation] in surroundings blessed with these two great gifts.

The first priority of Iran is to have solid, good relations with its neighbors. That [policy] has been reiterated and pursued, especially since the new government took office in Tehran. My regional tour that took me to Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq immediately after Iran struck a historic deal with P5+1 in Vienna was in line with the same foreign policy strategy of the Islamic Republic.

Presently, this region of the world is restive and exposed to grave threats which target the social foundations and the culture of many Muslim nations. Iran has built on the flexibility of its population and, at the same time, on its resistance in the face of domination to open new chapters in constructive interaction [with the rest of the world]. Thank God, this has helped it cling to stability and security. Still, it cannot remain indifferent to the massive destruction in its surroundings. Our experience has taught us that instability and unrest know no bounds. Today, the security of no country in this globalized world can be guaranteed in an insecure environment.

The Vienna accord was an imperative start for our region. Not only does it not harm the interests of any of our neighbors, but it constitutes an achievement for the entire region, because it brought to an end an unnecessary 12-year-long dispute that posed more threat to our region than anywhere else.

It is now time to get on more important things, chief among them, launching a quest that allows Iran and other regional countries to uproot the factors that fuel tension and mistrust in the region. Establishment of a regional assembly to promote dialogue in the Persian Gulf and at a later stage among all Muslim nations in the Middle East to facilitate interaction is a necessity which should have been addressed long ago.

Such regional dialogue should be based on joint goals and some general principles signed off on by regional countries. Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all nations as well as for their inviolable borders, non-intervention in the internal affairs of countries, peaceful settlement of disputes, avoidance of threats or use of force, and promotion of peace, stability, progress and prosperity top the list of such principles.

We all have to accept that gone is the time of zero-sum games that suggested you either win or lose. The path to sustainable security does not go through exposing others to insecurity. No nation can cling to its interests without taking account of the interests of others. Whether we like it or not, that is an unavoidable destiny. “And do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (Al-Anfal Chapter of the holy Koran, Verse 46)

This inevitability, though, does not prescribe bitter interaction with the enemies. Rather, it is a sweet process of affinity among members of a family who have been away from each other for a while. “The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers.” (Al-Hujurat Chapter, Verse 10)

Nowhere in the world is the importance of such mechanisms more evident than in the Persian Gulf and the Muslim Middle East. The need for an intelligent assessment of regional complexities and adoption of sustainable policies to counter them is undeniable. The fight against terrorism is one such example. No one can take on violent extremist groups like the so-called Islamic State – which is neither Islamic nor a state – in Iraq as they promote these groups in Yemen and Syria in parallel.

If we were to choose one of the ongoing regional tragedies as a topic to launch serious discussions about, Yemen would be a good example. Iran has put forth a rational, practical approach to end this painful, unnecessary crisis.

The four-point plan Iran has proposed calls for an immediate ceasefire, shipment of humanitarian aid to Yemeni civilians, facilitation of talks among Yemeni groups in their country and eventual formation of a broad-based government of national unity. After consultation with some neighboring countries and other players, we presented a similar initiative two years ago to help peace and stability return to Syria.

In parallel with efforts to end the crisis in Yemen, the Syria initiative can be placed on the agenda in cooperation with other Islamic countries under the auspices of United Nations mechanisms.

At the same time, these strategic talks can be used to take definitive steps and develop a better understanding to address issues such as terrorism and extremism, prevent sectarian and tribal conflicts, diversify scientific and industrial cooperation, and expand and upgrade relations among Islamic countries in the region.

Peaceful nuclear cooperation could be a perfect example of such collaboration. Iran and fellow Muslim countries in the Middle East are entitled to the benefits associated with peaceful nuclear technology in keeping with international law.

Cooperation of all regional countries to secure such objectives is imperative. Such collaboration can pursue the following: Turning enrichment facilities into a regional hub to produce nuclear fuel in cooperation with Islamic nations on the technical front, and intensifying international efforts to create a nuclear-free Middle East on the political front.

Finally, as Muslim nations of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, our religious, cultural, political and geographical common ground give us all the necessary tools to launch constructive cooperation that benefits the people of the region and the entire world.

The numerous challenges we face in the region are so serious that we should not use ethnic issues and personal differences to hold up any longer the courageous, farsighted launch of critical cooperation to target the root causes of unrest in the Muslim Middle East, the Persian Gulf in particular.

We should not pin our hopes on the very same ones who have played a role in the creation of these problems to settle them for us. This is a unique opportunity to interact and our people rightfully expect us not to blow it. “And say, ‘Do [as you will], for Allah will see your deeds, and [so, will] His Messenger and the believers.”’ (At-Tawbah Chapter, Verse 105)

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