MUSCAT: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought Thursday to mend fences between his mainly-Shiite country and Sunni-dominated Gulf monarchies distrustful of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support of the Syrian regime.
Rouhani, concluding a two-day visit to Oman, said the Islamic republic offered “a hand of fraternity to all the countries of the region, especially those south of the Persian Gulf.”
“Relations with one country should not grow at the expense of another. We want to see the countries of the region live in peace, understanding and friendship,” Rouhani told a business gathering in Muscat.
The sultanate maintains strong links with Iran and has played an important intermediary role between Western countries and Tehran.
However not all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which besides Oman also comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, enjoy the same level of relations with Tehran.
Gulf Arab countries have expressed concern about the reliability of Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr and the risk of radioactive leaks should it be hit by a major earthquake.
They also fear there is a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear drive, despite repeated assertions by Tehran that its atomic ambitions are peaceful.
Ties between Gulf countries and Iran have also been strained by Tehran’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its battle against rebels supported by the Arab monarchies.
“Cooperation and rapprochement would benefit the whole region,” said Rouhani, adding that his country is “open to investors from the region, especially Omanis.”
– Dialogue resolves differences: Rouhani –
In a meeting with university professors, Rouhani denounced “terrorism” and called for dialogue to coordinate the fight against it.
“All differences can be resolved through dialogue,” he said, pointing out that talking had helped end the deadlock in nuclear negotiations with Western countries.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also made fresh overtures to the Gulf monarchies.
“Our message to the other countries of the Persian Gulf is a message of friendship, fraternity and cooperation,” Zarif said.
“Iran is ready for strong and fraternal relations with all the states of the region,” said Zarif, who has embarked on a charm offensive towards the Gulf since Rouhani became Iran’s president in August.
In December, he toured Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the U.A.E.
But Zarif has still not visited regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, which accuses Tehran of fomenting opposition among its Shiite-majority population to Sunni rule.
Zarif has said he is ready to visit Riyadh, but the Saudis remain cool to the idea.
“The region does not need another war. We should coexist on the bases of religion, history and common interests,” said Zarif.
Tehran’s good relations with Muscat “could serve as a example for other countries”, he added.
Relations between Shiite-majority Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia have long been strained as both countries vie for regional dominance.