Salehi: Top priority is boosting ties in Islamic world

New Iranian FM says first diplomatic duty is to increase ties with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, says Europe should "engage" Iran.

December 18, 2010 13:35
3 minute read.
Head of the Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Al

Salehi 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Iranian atomic agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who officially took over the position of the Islamic republic's new foreign minister on Saturday, said Teheran's top priority will be to increase ties with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, reported AFP.

Salehi was appointed interim foreign minister after his predecessor, Manouchehr Mottaki, was fired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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"Iran's first priority in diplomacy should be neighbours and the Islamic world. In this regard, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have a special position," Salehi was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency after he was sworn in as foreign minister, AFP reported.

"Saudi Arabia deserves to have special political ties with Iran. Iran and Saudi Arabia, as two effective countries in the Islamic world, can resolve many problems together," he said.

The new foreign minister's comments on Saudi Arabia come after US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks showed Riyadh was highly concerned by a threat from Iran. According to a report that appeared late last month on The Guardian’s website, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah asked the US repeatedly to attack Iran and destroy its nuclear program, and in 2008 the monarchy’s envoy to Washington told US Gen. David Petraeus to “cut off the head of the snake.”

On Europe, Salehi said Iran and the European Union too would "benefit" if the EU changed its position towards Teheran from "confrontation to engagement as soon as possible."

"Despite some unfair moves by the European Union, this union wants respectful ties with Iran for a number of reasons, including energy," the foreign minister was quoted as saying by AFP.

Salehi also stressed the importance of boosting ties with Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Russia and China, reported AFP.

Salehi, 61, was officially sworn in as foreign minister at a ceremony which was also the farewell event for Mottaki who was not in attendance, media reports said according to AFP.

Mottaki, 57, was fired last week by the Iranian president during an official visit to Senegal.

Ahmadinejad dismissed Mottaki after he praised as a "step forward" comments made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear program.

Mottaki's comments apparently undermined the Islamic republic's official stance that its enrichment of uranium is non-negotiable.

Mottaki's dismissal also came just days after nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 ended earlier this month without any signs of progress other than a commitment to meet once again in early 2011 in Turkey.

However, on Thursday The Telegraph reported that Iran is in negotiations with France, Russia, Turkey and the United States on a nuclear fuel swap deal that Teheran hopes will curb sanctions levied against it.

According to the report, Iran would send 1,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium and all of its 30 kilograms stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium "to a safe location." France and Russia would supply Teheran with fuel rods for the medical isotope reactor Teheran claims it is enriching uranium to power.

An official involved in the talks told The Telegraph, "We think the deal is doable," but cautioned that "there's still a lot of detail to be worked through.

- Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.

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