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Iran says not after tensions with Saudi Arabia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi

Iran says it does not seek tensions with Saudi Arabia, even though it characterizes Riyadh's involvement in conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere a "strategic mistake".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on Monday called on Saudi rulers to abandon their "bad behavior" and instead answer Iran's call for dialog and interaction.

"Our response to the bad behavior and improper remarks of Saudi authorities is that we do not want tensions," Qassemi told reporters during his weekly news briefing, adding Tehran is ready for dialog with Riyadh. 

"However, dialog and understanding does not mean an endorsement of all the things governments and countries do. Either at the regional level or on the issue of Yemen and Iran, Saudi Arabia is involved in strategic mistakes."

Qassemi said Iran is hopeful that Saudi Arabia would be ready for dialog with Iran in "a fair environment".  

“We hope they would realize their mistakes and create an atmosphere for understanding and negotiation through making up for their past mistakes,” he added.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have escalated since the kingdom executed a prominent Shia cleric in January 2016.

The execution triggered angry protests in many countries, including Iran. Protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad, prompting Riyadh to cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic.

Saudi authorities have also become increasingly belligerent in their verbal attacks on Iran. Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman recently said, "We will work to have the battle in Iran rather than in Saudi Arabia."

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Relations between the two countries first soured after a deadly human crush during Hajj rituals in Mina, near Mecca, in September 2015, which claimed the lives of hundreds of Iranian pilgrims among others.

Nuclear deal

Elsewhere in his news conference, Qassemi urged the United States to adopt a “pragmatic” approach as regards the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Despite the deal, the US is refusing to give guarantees to international banks against punitive measures which Washington is likely to mete out for transactions with Iran.

Non-nuclear sanctions

Qassemi said President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking re-election, also plans to have the non-nuclear sanctions against the country lifted.

“We will try to remove these sanctions, which have certain complications,” he said, without  explanation. 

“Some of these issues are related to the US, and some to other countries,” Qassemi said, urging the other side to reciprocate Iran's goodwill and fairness.

The spokesman further described an ongoing mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails as indicative of their resistance against Israeli aggression.

He also said in the absence of diplomatic ties with Iran, Canada has been urged through the United Nations to allow Iranian expatriates to vote in the Islamic Republic's presidential election on May 19.

Qassemi put the Canadian government's lack of cooperation down to its “domestic problems.”

Turkey's border wall 

The spokesman said Iran welcomes Turkey's plan to build a 144-kilometer wall along its border as long as it bolsters security in the region.  

Ankara announced the decision last week, saying the wall was aimed at halting the movement of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants who are based in Iraq’s Qandil mountains bordering Iran and Turkey.

Qassemi said the wall will be in Turkish territory, and not "right on the border," adding "we welcome any move that increases the security and stability of the border."  

Turkish officials, he said, had informed their Iranian counterparts of their plan before the announcement.

The border wall is being constructed with three-meter concrete blocks topped off with razor wire, according to Turkish authorities.

PJAK militants, which are affiliated to the PKK, occasionally use the border to carry out terrorist attacks against Iran. Smugglers also bring bootleg goods, like alcohol, into Iran from Turkey and northern Iraq.

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