Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs, Muhammad Reza Baqeri, accused the United States of adopting ‘satanic’ tactics to cause animosity between the Arabs and Iran. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, who attended the African Union summit convened in Sharm al-Sheikh, said that a new phase in the history of Arab-Iranian relations had begun since the fall of Saddam’s regime which, he said, caused trouble in the region. He expressed Iran’s readiness for a dialogue with the Arabs under the aegis of the Arab League, and denied Iranian intentions to divide influence in Iraq between Iran and the United States, stressing his country’s support for Iraq’s stability, security and sovereignty. He also talked about Iranian-African cooperation in all fields, especially, agriculture, industry, health, and education. The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What were your reasons for attending the recently held African Union summit in Sharm-al Sheikh?
[Baqeri] Iran is an observer at the Organization of African Unity and participates in all its meetings held in the various African capitals. Cooperation is continuous and extensive in all political and economic fields as well as at the United Nations; we coordinate our positions on all matters of common interest.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were the latest developments concerning Iran and its confrontation with the United States highlighted at the African Union summit?
[Baqeri] All states in the world are following that and there is no need to inform them. The nuclear issue and everything said about Iran is on file. Consequently, the conference was an occasion to energize African-Iranian cooperation in the field of water and food; we have experts in this field working with African countries trying to help them in this respect. Iranian President Ahamdinejad, has recently participated in the UN summit conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization, held in Rome and proposed that this crisis be solved through specific work programs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What particular areas are the focus of African-Iranian cooperation?
[Baqeri] African-Iranian relations are very good. We have worked together for the past 30 years. That cooperation has increased in magnitude in all fields, especially, education, health, agriculture and industry. In Senegal, for instance, we have a car factory. We are building similar factories in some neighboring countries and in Uganda. We have experts working in the field of agriculture in some African countries, and I believe we have room for wider cooperation in health and education.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will this cooperation be extended to the Arab nations? [Baqeri] There are no problems between us and the Arabs. There was a problem in Iraq because of Saddam, but there was no problem with Iraq. Arab-Iranian relations are much better today than they used to be, as President Ahamdinejad’s visits to all Arab states in the Gulf region indicate. The president attended the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] and sent Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki to be his personal representative at the Arab summit convened in Riyadh. Such things never happened in the past. In the past 30 years or even the past 15 years, we had no chance of participating with the Arabs in anything. President Ahamdinejad visited North African states and Yemen. All this provides evidence that Arab-Iranian relations have improved.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I am referring to differences and not mutual visits. For instance, you stand accused of occupying Iraq at present, and that is why you say you have no problem with it?
[Baqeri] These are US conspiracies to cause animosity once again between the Arabs and Iran. We regard what the United States does in Iraq, and what they say about us as ‘satanic tactics’ based on a policy of ‘divide and rule’.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been said that the US and Iran are competing for influence in Iraq. What are your thoughts on that?
[Baqeri] This is untrue. The reality is that the United States and the West have an agenda to control the wealth of Iraq and all its territory. That is why the United States is using ‘satanic tactics’ to disguise its intentions toward Iraq and other states in the region, and that is why Iran is saying that a Muslim should not act against his Muslim brother to carry out the plans of the ‘great Satan’ – the United States of America. Everyone knows the extent of our assistance to our Iraqi brothers.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why won’t Iran state its views in an Arab-Iranian dialogue that puts an end to misunderstandings on many thorny regional issues?
[Baqeri] Why do the Arabs forget Israel and no one talks about its acts of genocide against the Palestinian people and its continued occupation of the lands of Arab states? That is why we see Israel playing the same satanic tune as the US to divert world attention from itself and focus the attention of all Muslims on Iran. We stress that there are no differences between Iran and the Arabs. We are one Islamic nation and the US and Israeli ‘Satan’ will not succeed in coming between us; suffice to say that our constitution has adopted Arabic as a second language, not English or any other language.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What type of dialogue, in your view, would be ideal between the Arabs and Iran?
[Baqeri] Last month, Hashemi-Rafsanjani participated in a dialogue that took place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Iranian and Saudi delegations had a long dialogue with each other. Dialogue was then extended to Arab and Islamic councils and Islamic parliaments that convene every six months. Yet, we are prepared in addition, to have dialogue under the aegis of the Arab League. Iran has proposed the issue of dialogue to the Arab League, but so far we have not received a reply.