- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2015

Iran’s foreign minister says his nation wants the success of nuclear talks to be a launchpad for diplomatic engagement between Tehran and its adversaries across the Middle East — with the goals of confronting the Islamic State and resolving the wars in Syria and Yemen.

“The purview of our constructive engagement extends far beyond nuclear negotiations,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in an op-ed published Monday by The New York Times. “Good relations with Iran’s neighbors are our top priority.”

“It is time for Iran and other stakeholders to begin to address the causes of tension in the wider Persian Gulf region,” he wrote. “We need a sober assessment of the complex and intertwined realities here, and consistent policies to deal with them. The fight against terror is a case in point.”

Mr. Zarif made no specific mention of Saudi Arabia. But his op-ed read like a message to Saudi leaders, whose frustration toward Tehran has mounted in the wake of the framework nuclear deal reached last month between Tehran, the U.S. and other world powers.

Saudi Arabia, the Mideast’s most influential Sunni Muslim monarchy, is seen to be engaged in a widening conflict with Tehran, the region’s main Shiite Muslim power.

Riding through the middle of the conflict are Syria, Yemen and Iraq, where sectarian friction is rampant between Sunni and Shiite militias.

While both Tehran and Riyadh say they want the defeat of the Islamic State and al Qaeda — two terrorist groups with roots in Sunni Islam — the two nations are seen to be working against each other, rather than together toward that common goal.

Mr. Zarif’s op-ed on Monday called for the creation of a new and formalized arena for diplomacy that might create an opening for such cooperation. But the Iranian foreign minister made the suggestion in a way that read like an insinuation that Riyadh is bent on facilitating — not fighting — extremists in the region.

“One cannot confront Al Qaeda and its ideological siblings, such as the so-called Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state, in Iraq, while effectively enabling their growth in Yemen and Syria,” Mr. Zarif wrote.

At the same time, he wrote, “There are multiple arenas where the interests of Iran and other major stakeholders intersect. The establishment of a collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, to facilitate engagement, is long overdue.”

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