Zarif to Saudis: Time to Set Aside the Past

Zarif to Saudis: Time to Set Aside the Past
Zarif to Saudis: Time to Set Aside the Past

Iran invited Saudi Arabia to move on from the past and join ranks with the Islamic Republic to help address common regional challenges and threats.

"We have a common opportunity, common challenges, common threats," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, hours after his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir addressed the event.

It is time for the Iranian and Saudi governments to "set aside the past and have a new narrative, a new paradigm for the future", Zarif said. The remarks came a day after Syrian peace talks brought the rivals to the same table for the first time in months and hours after the International Syria Support Group agreed on a ceasefire in the war-torn Arab country and cooperation to ensure rapid humanitarian access to besieged Syrian towns.

Tehran, alongside Russia, has been supporting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the insurgent groups in the five-year-old civil war there, which seek to dislodge him with the backing of Riyadh and its western and regional allies.

  Saudi Brothers

"Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot exclude each other from the region," Reuters quoted him as saying, referring to Riyadh as "our Saudi brothers".

"We are prepared to work with Saudi Arabia ... I believe Iran and Saudi Arabia can have shared interests in Syria."

The mounting feud between the two regional powers culminated in a decision by the Arab kingdom early last month to cut bilateral ties, following the storming of its embassy in Tehran by a crowd protesting the Saudi execution of a leading Shia Muslim cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Zarif said the two sides should focus on their shared interests and stop "recriminating each other".

"We don't need to engage in rehearsal of past narratives about our grievances. [Iran has] a lot of grievances against Saudi Arabia. Please do not forget that we lost 464 people due to their negligence at least during the last hajj pilgrimage, but we didn't break diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. We didn't even downgrade diplomatic relations," he said.

"We need to work together. We have enough challenges to move forward and we are prepared to work with Saudi Arabia," the top diplomat said.

Zarif added that he took inspiration from Iran's historic nuclear deal with world powers last July, saying that the agreement and the resulting lifting of sanctions showed how deep-seated problems can be resolved through diplomacy.

  Mogherini to Visit

EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told the conference that she would visit Iran in the coming months, Fars News Agency reported.

"I will take a large delegation to Iran in spring … We are ready to develop economic, trade, energy and cultural cooperation with Iran and we will discuss it during Zarif's trip to Brussels next week."

Clarifying her side's stance on the regional developments, Mogherini said, "It is important from the Europeans' perspective that not only Iran, Saudi Arabia and other [Persian] Gulf countries find a way to manage the potential conflicts or the competing interests in the region but it is equally important to find a balance to allow every single country in the region to feel their sovereignty at full."