Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran during his one-day official trip, with both the leaders emphasising on the need for peace in the region.
“I told Prime Minster Imran we welcome any gesture by Pakistan for peace in the region and appreciate his visit to our country,” said Rouhani at a joint press conference with the premier.
Rouhani said that the two leaders had discussed, among other things, the war in Yemen and the sanctions by the United States on Iran.
“Regional issues have to be resolved through regional means and dialogue. We also emphasised that any goodwill gesture will be responded with a goodwill gesture and good words,” said the Iranian president.
“We also discussed how the nuclear deal could be restored,” added Rouhani.
Rouhani also warned that Iran would respond to any threats, saying it was a “big mistake” to think it wouldn’t do so, according to the Associated Press.
Prime Minister Imran thanked Rouhani for speaking up for the people of occupied Kashmir at the UN General Assembly in New York, where the two leaders also held a meeting on the sidelines.
“Mr President, the main reason I came here with my delegation is that we don’t want conflict in the region. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties in the last 15 years in the ‘war on terror’, Afghanistan is still suffering, [there is ] terrible devastation in Syria — we don’t want another conflict in this part of the world,” said Imran.
“Mr President, we have Iran as a neighbour, our ties with Iran go way back. Saudi Arabia has been one of our closest friends. Saudi Arabia has helped us when we have needed, when we have been in need and so the reason for this trip was that we don’t want a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“We recognise that it is a complex issue but we feel that it can be resolved through dialogue. What should never happen is a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran because this will not just affect this whole region — two brotherly countries will be affected — this will cause poverty in the world. Oil prices will go up.
“There is vested interest behind this conflict,” added the premier.
Speaking about his visit to Iran and upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, he said it was Pakistan’s own initiative, saying he felt encouraged after his meeting with Rouhani.
“I will go to Saudi Arabia with a positive mind. We would like to play the role of a facilitator and not mediator. We want to facilitate two brotherly Islamic countries.
“It is a complex situation but it can be resolved.
“We also discussed how the nuclear deal could be restored. When we were in New York, US President Donald Trump asked us to facilitate some sort of dialogue with Iran and the US,” said the prime minister, adding that Pakistan was aware of the difficulties.
PM Imran calls on supreme leader
Later in the day, Prime Minister Imran called on Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The prime minister thanked the supreme leader for support to the people of India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir for their right of self-determination.
He said that Muslim ummah faces numerous challenges internally and from the outside. “It is important to articulate a message of unity and solidarity among the Muslim nations,” the premier added.
According to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office on the Tehran visit, the premier during his meeting with Khamenei “reaffirmed his resolve to comprehensively upgrade Pakistan-Iran relations”.
“He also apprised the Supreme Leader of his initiative for regional peace and security,” the statement added.
Meeting with Rouhani
In his meeting with the Iranian president, the prime minister “highlighted the historic ties and the tradition of close cooperation between the two countries”, said the Prime Minister’s Office.
The premier voiced his commitment to further strengthen ties between the two countries in diverse areas, “with a particular focus on enhanced trade and economic cooperation”.
“Close cooperative ties with Iran have always been a priority for Pakistan,” the statement quoted the prime minister as saying.
While discussing the security situation in the region, the prime minister underscored the need for “avoidance of military conflict and constructive engagement of all parties”.
Pakistan’s readiness to “extend full facilitation of efforts for de-escalation of tensions and resolution of differences and disputes through political and diplomatic means” was also conveyed by the premier to the Iranian president.
Arrival in Tehran
Earlier, both leaders held “wide-ranging consultations” during the meeting, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s official Twitter account said.
“Pakistan attaches high importance to bilateral ties with Iran,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by the PTI. “Pakistan is willing to play its role towards strengthening peace and stability in the region.”
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis, Human Resource Development Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari and other officials were also present during the meeting.
The prime minsiter also held a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who had received the premier upon arrival.
The Foreign Office, in a statement issued on Saturday, said that Prime Minister Imran was undertaking the visit to Tehran “as part of his initiative to promote peace and security in the region”.
This is Prime Minister Imran’s second visit to Iran this year. In April, he undertook a two-day official trip on President Rouhani’s invitation.
PM’s ‘initiative’ for peace
Relations between Tehran and Riyadh have worsened in the aftermath of an attack on the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia on September 14. Saudi Arabia blamed the attack on Tehran but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with CBS program “60 Minutes”, had said that a war with Iran will be catastrophic for the global economy.
The New York Times and certain other media organisations had earlier claimed that Saudi crown prince had requested Prime Minister Imran to mediate between his country and Iran to stave off war.
The premier had also said in a press conference in New York on September 24 that US President Donald Trump had asked him to help in defusing tensions and he immediately went to meet President Rouhani on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly’s 74th session last month.
However, the FO in a statement on Saturday credited the prime minister for the peace initiative. It said: “The initiative for possibility of dialogue between KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] and Iran, the two brotherly countries of Pakistan, is an effort by the prime minister of Pakistan for ensuring peace in the region.”
The statement denied that the crown prince had delivered a message for the Iranian leaders or even asked Prime Minister Imran to play a mediatory role with Iran.
Iran, meanwhile, said it was open to any mediation or direct talks with Saudi Arabia.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in an interview with TRT while talking about the prime minister’s initiative, said: “We’ve never rejected any intermediary […] We’ve always been open to mediation, and we’ve always been open to direct talks with our Saudi neighbours.”
Emphasising the importance of dialogue for resolving outstanding issues, he said, “We don’t have any choice but to talk to each other.”