Arab-Iranian Dialogue Commences in Tehran with Participation of Iranian Foreign Minister and Al Jazeera Director General

14 May 2024
Speakers (from left to right): Kamal Kharrazi, Mohammed Mukhtar Al Khalil, Mostefa Souag, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Fahmi Huwaidi and Munir Shafiq. [Al Jazeera]

On Sunday, 12 May 2024, in the Iranian capital Tehran, the third round of the Arab-Iranian Dialogue Conference commenced. The conference was organised by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations of Iran under the title, “Dialogue for Cooperation and Interaction”. It was attended by Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Mustefa Souag, the Director-General of Al Jazeera Media Network; and a select group of Iranian and Arab intellectuals and experts.

Dialogue and regional cooperation

In his opening remarks, Abdollahian underscored the significance of the Arab-Iranian Dialogue, highlighting its pivotal role in shaping perceptions among the countries of the region, fostering mutual trust, and paving the way for cooperation and coordination. He emphasised that these efforts aim to solidify peace, stability and sustainable security in the region.

The Iranian foreign minister stressed Iran's interest in expanding the Dialogue to encompass the entire Middle East region, transcending beyond Arab-Iranian discourse towards regional cooperation. He affirmed, “We have progressed from mere Arab-Iranian dialogue to a phase of broader regional cooperation.” Abdollahian emphasised that the current dynamic is not one of confrontation but of mutual alignment. He also noted that Iran and Arab countries have entered an advanced stage of constructive dialogue and regional cooperation. Proposing a shift in the conference’s title from “Arab-Iranian Dialogue” to “Dialogue and Regional Cooperation”, he reiterated Tehran's commitment to fostering understanding and collaboration among the nations of the region.

Abdollahian emphasised the necessity of cooperation for achieving collective security in the region. He argued, “Transforming the region into a weapon arsenal will not ensure security for any country.” He asserted that regional security hinges on collaboration among nations and warned against achieving development at the expense of others. He also highlighted the potential for collaboration between Iran and Saudi Arabia, citing their regional capabilities and the resumption of diplomatic ties. While acknowledging progress, he noted that both countries are still at the outset of their journey toward enhanced cooperation.

In addition, the Iranian minister acknowledged the improved bilateral relations between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, expressing optimism for a new phase of mutual cooperation. He mentioned ongoing efforts to restore relations with Bahrain and welcomed the release of political prisoners as a positive step.

Addressing developments in Palestine and the war on Gaza, Abdollahian praised the steadfastness of Palestinian people and resistance, describing the latter’s resilience for the past seven and a half months as “legendary. Conversely, he condemned U.S. support for Israel's aggression and criticised normalization projects, asserting that peace initiatives are often deceptive and not endorsed by the peoples of the region. Abdollahian stressed that genuine peace in the region hinges on Palestinians obtaining their legitimate rights, including self-determination.

On the Iranian nuclear programme, Abdollahian expressed Iran's aspiration for a nuclear-free Middle East. He reiterated Iran's willingness to adhere to the 2015 nuclear agreement and called for the lifting of sanctions and full implementation of the agreement to serve Iran's interests. He urged all parties to take positive steps in this direction.

The Iranian nuclear doctrine at stake

In his address, Kharrazi underscored the imperative of sustaining Arab-Iranian dialogue to bolster cooperation across various domains among the nations and populations of the region. Advocating for a nuclear-free Middle East, he drew attention to the destabilising impact of Israel's possession of nuclear arms, which fuels a regional arms race. Kharrazi cautioned that any threat to Iran's presence or an attack on its nuclear facilities by Israel would compel Iran to reconsider its nuclear military doctrine and deterrence strategy. He asserted, “While Iran does not currently possess nuclear weapons, existential threats from Israel could prompt a shift in our nuclear doctrine.” Emphasising the need for a robust response, he added, “Should Iran's presence be jeopardised, adjustments to our military doctrine will become unavoidable. Any assault on our nuclear facilities would necessitate a change in our deterrence tactics.”

Kharrazi urged Arab nations to collaborate in advancing collective security, expressing Iran's willingness to support the armament of Arab states. He reasoned that reinforcing regional actors would bolster security and stability. “Israel only understands the language of power,” he remarked.

Moreover, he criticised the United States for its financial and military backing of Israel's war on Gaza, asserting, “the West cannot be relied upon to resolve the Palestinian crisis due to its bias towards Israel.”

Dialogue for understanding and cooperation

In his address at the opening session, Souag stressed the vital need for dialogue between Arabs and Iran, emphasising its role in fostering mutual understanding and laying the groundwork for resolving differences. He highlighted the potential for such dialogue to propel them towards greater cooperation across diverse sectors.

Expanding on this point, Souag elucidated how geographic proximity and shared interests underscore the imperative for dialogue and collaboration. He closed his speech by urging the utilisation of the insights gleaned from the preceding two rounds of the Arab-Iranian Dialogue as a foundation for future progress.

A platform for open dialogue

On his part, Mohammed Mukhtar Al Khalil, Director of Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, called attention in his address to the broader context of the dialogues organised by the centre in collaboration with the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations of Iran for the past three years. He mentioned the objective of facilitating the exchange of ideas, opinions and perspectives among Arab and Iranian researchers, experts and intellectuals on various mutual concerns. He indicated that the aim is to provide a platform where each participant can express their views freely and listen to others without constraint or interference. Additionally, he highlighted that this process would yield insights and approaches conducive to problem-solving, thus enhancing cooperation and broadening common ground between Iran and Arab countries.

The time for cooperation

During the opening session, Islamist writer Fahmi Huwaidi also addressed the audience. In his speech, he explained that the discussion on the importance and necessity of dialogue is not new, but traces back to the early days of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. He shared his personal experience of discussing this matter during his visit to Iran in the first week of the revolution's outbreak in 1979, making dialogue a cornerstone of his discourse. He pointed out that the current focus should be on shifting the conversation towards areas of cooperation that could strengthen Arab-Iranian relations across various sectors, benefiting the countries and peoples of the region. He expressed hope for the participation of those who have not yet attended from various countries and elite circles in such meetings, which have the potential to bolster Arab-Iranian relations. Huwaidi also hinted that the resilience and resistance witnessed in Gaza are among the outcomes of Arab-Iranian dialogue.

Strengthening the Islamic nation’s immunity

Palestinian writer Munir Shafiq also took part in the opening session, addressing the Palestinian cause and the developments in Gaza since the onset of Tufan Al-Aqsa on 7 October 2023 in greater depth. He highlighted the longstanding call for Arab-Iranian dialogue, tracing it back to the early days of the Islamic Revolution when the issue of Islamic unity was raised. While Arab-Iranian relations emerged as a prominent issue, they faltered during the Iran-Iraq war. However, they regained prominence at the dawn of the new millennium as a critical necessity to confront the challenges facing Arab nations, particularly the Palestinian cause, which also resonates with the Iranian revolution.

Shafiq also stressed the vital need for Arab-Iranian cooperation in tackling the crises and issues confronting the Islamic world. He further clarified that Arabs must engage in dialogue among themselves to bridge their differences.