Zarif calls for regional efforts to combat terrorism

Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Monday on countries in the Middle East to work together to combat the rising phenomenon of terrorism and stressed the need for ties between Tehran and Riyadh to ensure stability in the region.

Zarif, who spoke in Beirut following talks with Lebanese officials and political leaders including Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, also rejected outright any preconditions on Tehran taking part in talks later this month aimed at ending the crisis in neighboring Syria.

“There are joint challenges between Iran and Lebanon and the entire region that require from all of us to unify our efforts to combat terrorism, which is the most dangerous phenomenon threatening regional stability,” Zarif told reporters during a joint news conference with Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister.

“And I call for more regional and international cooperation to face this terrorism,” he added.

“The phenomena of terrorism, extremist and takfiris affect the entire region and this joint challenge can only be confronted via joint efforts,” Zarif said.

The Iranian official also praised the Lebanese government’s “tremendous efforts” in tackling the suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last year.

The Nov. 19 attack, which claimed the lives of 30 including an Iranian diplomat, was claimed by the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, an Al-Qaeda offshoot. Last month, the Lebanese Army apprehended Majid al-Majid, the head of the group who later died of natural causes at a military hospital in Beirut.

On Sunday, Zarif said an Iranian delegation would be dispatched to Lebanon to investigate Majid’s case.

During the conference at Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, Zarif also turned to relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia and stressed that good ties between the regional heavyweights were needed to preserve stability in the region.

“ Iran has a principle foreign policy: seeking to build the best ties of cooperation with neighboring countries, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia given its importance in the region,” he said.

“Bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could play a primary role in strengthening stability in the region,” Zarif added.

The Iranian official met earlier in the day with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.

According to Hezbollah’s media office, Zarif also held talks with Nasrallah, Iran’s main ally in Lebanon and the region.

Earlier in the day, Zarif laid a wreath on the tomb of Hezbollah’s slain commander Imad Mughniyih and visited the bombing site outside the Iranian Embassy.

During the news conference, Zarif spoke about the crisis in Syria and the second round of peace talks in Switzerland scheduled for Jan. 22. He voiced opposition to any preconditions on Tehran’s participation at the conference.

“I am always ready to go to Geneva without preconditions if the integrity and dignity of the Iranian people and the Iranian nation are maintained and respected,” Zarif said.

The Iranian official was responding to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who earlier in the day said Tehran was welcome to attend the conference in Switzerland but on condition that it accepts the formation of a transitional government.

“ Iran outright rejects any placement of preconditions on its presence in Geneva and if there was pressure resulting in Iran not taking part in the conference then the parties [which exerted the pressure] will regret that in the future,” Zarif said.

“Any party that claims to be concerned with Syria’s stability and security should work via a harmonious, unified movement to find a peaceful solution to the crisis there and allow the Syrian people to decide how to reach their aspirations,” he said.

Asked about the preliminary agreement between the P5+1 group and Iran with regard to Tehrans' nuclear activities, Zarif said: “I believe that the agreement is the beginning of a long and difficult road in order to address this issue and create a bit of confidence, particularly in Iran.”

He said that the Iranian people believed Tehran’s “peaceful nuclear program” had been treated unfairly, adding that the issue had cast a shadow over the region and Iran as well.

Commenting on the flurry of political activity to form a government in Lebanon, Zarif said: “I am glad that my visit to Lebanon coincided with new initiatives for unity and dialogue between the Lebanese which [could] pave the way for the birth of a new government," he said.

He added that a new Cabinet would help strengthen stability which he said Lebanon needed now more than at any other time.