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Iran’s Zarif Calls For Regional Cooperation Against Terror

  • RFE/RL

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a press conference in Kuwait on July 26.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a press conference in Kuwait on July 26.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called for a united front among Middle Eastern nations to fight against "the threat of extremism, terrorism, and sectarianism."

"Any threat to one country is a threat to all," Zarif told a news conference in Kuwait City on July 26. "No country can solve regional problems without the help of others."

Zarif is on his first regional trip since Iran reached a deal with world powers on its nuclear program, an agreement that raised concern among Persian Gulf countries.

Under the deal struck in Vienna on July 14, sanctions that have hampered Iran’s economy will be gradually removed in return for Tehran accepting long-term curbs on its nuclear program.

Iran's Sunni-ruled neighbors fear the accord could bolster the Shi'ite-dominated regional power, which is accused of interfering in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.

"Iran stands behind the people in the region to fight against the threat of extremism, terrorism and sectarianism," Zarif said. "Our message to the regional countries is that we should fight together against this shared challenge."

But Zarif insisted that it was up to other states to change their policies, not the Islamic republic.

"What is needed is not a change in Iranian policy but a change in the policy of some countries that want conflict and war in this region," he said.

Zarif earlier met his Kuwaiti counterpart, Sheikh Sabah Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah, and the ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who paid his first visit as head of state to Iran last year.

After Kuwait, Zarif travelled to Qatar, and was due to go to Iraq next.

According to Iranian state-linked media, the Iranian foreign minister is briefing officials in all three countries on the nuclear agreement and discussing ways to improve cooperation and fight terrorism.

But a dispute with the Gulf island state of Bahrain threatened to overshadow Zarif's regional tour.

Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite majority, announced on July 25 that it was recalling its envoy from Tehran in protest against what it described as "hostile" comments by Iranian leaders.

Authorities also said they had broken up an attempt to smuggle weapons, ammunition, and explosives into the kingdom.

Officials say two Bahraini suspects admitted to receiving the shipment from "Iranian handlers outside Bahrain's territorial waters."

Zarif denied the claim as "baseless," and said the timing of the announcement was "an attempt to prevent any progress in cooperation between Iran and other Gulf states."

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, accused Bahrain of trying to "create a climate of tension" in the gulf.

"This approach is not constructive and it will not stop Iran's trust-building policy to cooperate with regional countries to fight against extremism and terrorism," the official IRNA news agency quoted Afkham as saying.

Bahrain last week summoned Iran's acting charge d'affaires, Mortadha Sanubari, to protest comments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a televised speech earlier this month, Khamenei said the nuclear deal Tehran agreed with world powers would not alter its support for the governments of Syria and Iraq, nor its backing for "oppressed people" in Yemen and Bahrain, and the Palestinians.

Iran has voiced support for a Shi’ite-led opposition movement in Bahrain, which is pressing for reforms.

But Tehran denies it directly intervenes in the country, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP