HE Mr. Mohammad J. ZARIF, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iran, presented his speech on the 2nd Teheran Security Conference 2018 – Regional Security in the West Asia; Emerging Challenges and Trends, January 8, 2018, Tehran, Iran. The key messages of the speech are presented below.
The Second Tehran Security Conference is held at a time when West Asia is going through one of its most difficult times; however violent extremism is on the decline. Daesh was military suppressed and the territory under its control liberated. The peoples and governments of Iraq and Syria heroically resisted and achieved victories. We are pleased that we could stand by these two friendly and brotherly nations.
In this period of time between the collapse of Daesh and the formation of an optimal security environment in the region, we have first to correctly grasp the realities on the ground, second arrive at a common understanding about the optimal condition for the region and third, way and means to reach these optimal conditions.
1. Current Realities:
a) Despite the collapse of Daesh, the terror system of Daesh is still at work. They still have a global and local reach due to their extensive networks, in countries such as Afghanistan and in North Africa. Thus, the continuous fight against this dangerous ideology, precluding the spreading of financial resources should still be a priority.
b) Respect for national frontiers and the nation-state system undermined by the terrorist and takfiri ideologies should be restored. The disregard of the nation-state will result in nothing but more tensions and instability.
c) Preserving national coherence and territorial integrity of the countries in the region is imperative. That should be prudently dealt with by national and local authorities through dialogue and on the basis of mutual respect, national sovereignty, and national Constitutions.
d) The reconstruction of Iraq and Syria is one of the major issues that the international community should take up at this period.
e) The continuance of aggression against the oppressed people of Yemen is another source of tension in the region. The parties to the crisis have no way out other than engaging in dialogue to reach a national consensus to resolve the crisis.
f) The US policies and its intervention in the region have been the major challenge that has fueled current crises and made them more complicated. The US persists in its destabilizing and destructive policies, such as maintaining its illegal military presence in Syria.
g) The occupation of Palestine remains the most critical issue facing the region and the whole world. Recently, the US once more reasserted its open enmity against the Muslim and Islamic countries, and thereby provided another opportunity to extremism and terrorism to regrow.
2. Optimal Security Condition for the Region:
A “strong region” and “security networking” could be a basis for a new paradigm in West Asia
a) Strong Region
Create a strong region instead of seeking hegemony and trying to exclude other actors is rooted in the IR of Iran’s strategic vision for our region. It emanated from the recognition of the imperative of respect for the interest of all stakeholders in the Persian Gulf region and the application of a win-win rule for the region. Any domineering efforts by any country in the region, becoming the hegemon is not only inappropriate but it is essentially impossible too. Such rivalries create a vicious circle that will allow no country to win. Other regions have been able to reach peace and development only after they left behind destructive and domination-seeking rivalries and showed a genuine tendency for cooperation. Our power and capability depend on our efforts to strengthen our regional community of nations. For example, the military expenditure by our neighbors in the Persian Gulf region as a percentage of GDP is the highest in the world. At a time when our regions face a full spectrum of such acute problems as terrorism, extremism, environmental crises, migration, and the failure of governments to deliver, destructive arms race and tension among neighbors impose a further cost on peoples in the region and exacerbate problems.
No country can secure itself at the cost of endangering its neighbors’ security. Such an idea is nothing than a dangerous delusion in our current inter-connected world.
b) Security Networking
Given the current inter-connected world and the special condition of our Persian Gulf region, which has experienced destructive crises in the past four decades, engaging in bloc-formations and alliances have proven to be inefficient. On the other hand, differences in size, population, and economic and military strength create permanent concerns and reliance on foreign powers, resulting in the illusion of buying security that leads only to insecurity. In the security networking, all big and small regional States participate on the basis of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. Security networking does not necessarily mean setting aside differences or overlooking historic problems. It is merely a means for managing them, while precluding enmities as well as inefficient and destabilizing alliances. In this framework, the regional States (large or small) predicate themselves on security networking to cooperate with a view to creating a lasting arrangement for securing the region while rejecting any sort of hegemony by regional and supra-regional powers. Such an approach leads to the promotion of cooperation among the regional States and the creation of opportunities for all towards strengthening one’s security and stability as a supplement for the security and stability of its neighbors’.
Within this conceptual and operational framework, hegemonic tendencies, unilateralism, confrontation and exclusion that lie in part at the root of the current difficulties in international relations, will lose any appeal. This framework also helps to replace the inefficient and destabilizing doctrine of balance of power or reliance on military power blocs and the dangerous and costly arms race.
3. Ways and means to attain optimal security
We should first and foremost rely on dialogue and confidence-building measures. Our region is facing a dialogue deficit, being visible at all levels in the region. Our governments are in need of assuring dialogue now more than at any time in the past. These dialogues should first and foremost seek to promote mutual understanding and knowing each other in general before seeking to address any particular issue or reaching any particular agreement. We could benefit from dialogue and positive interaction towards advancing the interests of our peoples. Such dialogues must replace rhetoric, slogans, rants, and useless propaganda statement that we fire at each other through our media.
b) Confidence building measures
Tensions, aggressions, and numerous ways in the region, as well as destructive activities of terrorist groups have led to what we can describe as a mutual trust crisis among the regional States. Dialogue is one of the most important instruments for removing mistrust.
Exchange of information in all areas tops all confidence-building measures. The main purpose is to inform counterparts about the objectives and aims and preclude misunderstandings and misconceptions.
In the field of people-to-people contact, we may look into joint cooperation in a multitude of fields including promoting tourism and particularly Halal tourism, student exchanges, research trips, organizing sports competitions, encouraging businessmen to meet and engage with counterparts, encourage artists to be in touch with one another, exchange of movies and TV series, reviewing textbooks aimed at excluding negativity and including positive contents about neighbors.
Cooperation in the areas of common interest and concern such as dealing with natural disasters, fighting sectarianism and extremism, empowering the youth and women to participate in different fields of social life are more confidence-building measures in which regional states could engage. All these measures could be followed up through the establishment of joint committees and task forces.
The nuclear deal is a product of President Rouhani’s foreign policy based on the principle “constructive interaction with the world”, based on rationality and moderation, which involves constructive dialogue, participation, and cooperation on the basis of common interests and mutual respect.
As a first step towards the new paradigm of security networking in a strong and stable region, the IR of Iran proposed to create a regional Dialogue Forum in the Persian Gulf right after the JCPOA. This forum can advance dialogue at all formal and informal levels in the Persian Gulf region. In the same framework, regional States can conduct preliminary consultations on how to implements confidence-building measures.
The discussions in the Second Tehran Security Conference can contribute to collective thinking for creating and advancing a new conceptual paradigm for security in this sensitive and volatile region.