May 25, 2019
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Islamabad Friday evening after a two-day visit in which Pakistan said it was ready to work with all sides to help lower mounting tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States, though experts believe Islamabad can offer Tehran little more than moral support.
Zarif arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night, ahead of next week’s emergency Arab League meeting summoned by Saudi Arabia over escalating tensions in the Arabian Gulf region.
“Foreign Minister Qureshi conveyed that Pakistan stood ready to work with all sides to help lower tensions and preserve peace and stability in the region,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Thursday night. “He also emphasized that Pakistan did not favor a conflict and believed that all sides should exercise maximum restraint and work in a spirit of easing the tensions.”
The United States pulled out of an agreement between Iran and world powers a year ago that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions. This month tensions have risen sharply following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he says are Iranian threats.
“Any miscalculation or accident could escalate the tensions to a dangerous level,” the foreign office statement said, quoting Qureshi.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s US withdrawal from the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.
But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to US measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.
Speaking about the nuclear deal, the Pakistan foreign minister said Pakistan supported the plan and “noted the efforts of the other parties to the Agreement to salvage the deal.”
“Faithful implementation of obligations by all parties was vitally important,” he said in a veiled reference to the US pulling out of the deal and Iran backtracking on some commitments.
Zarif also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday and discussed issues of “bilateral interest,” according to a statement from the PM Office. In a statement released after Zarif called on army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the military leader was quoted as saying, “war is not in anyone’s interest and all sides need to make efforts to keep conflict away from the region.”
Shamshad Ahmad, a former foreign secretary, said the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Islamabad was part of a “consultative process” between the two neighboring countries to chalk out ways to tackle the unraveling situation in the Arabian Gulf.
“We are geo-politically linked with Iran, and if something bad happens to Iran, Pakistan will automatically feel its consequences,” Ahmad told Arab News. “Javad Zarif is here to explain Iran’s position and take the Pakistani leadership into confidence over the recent regional tensions.”
Ahmad said the timing of Zarif’s visit was “very important” just days before Prime Minister Khan is due to visit Saudi Arabia on May 31 to participate in a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) body.
“The situation emerging in the Gulf is very serious not only for Iran, but also for the whole region,” he said, “But Pakistan can only extend moral support to Iran in the current scenario. We have our own limitations and international obligations to abide by … [we] cannot risk falling into the trap of US sanctions.”
This month, Pakistan said it had informed Iran in writing that it could not execute a $7 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as long as Tehran was under a United States sanctions regime, driving the final nail in the coffin of a project that was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan.
Tehran formally issued a notice to Islamabad in February this year, saying it was moving an arbitration court against Pakistan for failing to lay down the pipeline in Pakistani territory in the timeframe stipulated in the bilateral agreement. Pakistan has until August this year to legally respond to Iran’s notice and settle the issue through negotiations.
Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.
During Friday’s meeting between the Pakistani and Iranian foreign ministers, they spoke about ways to improve ties, including discussions on how to increase bilateral trade, facilitate people to people contact, open new border markets and crossing points, and enhance security in their frontier regions.