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Iran FM warns of persistent violent extremism in ECO region

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says destinies of all member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) are intertwined, warning of the persistent threat of violent extremism in the region even after the end of Daesh terrorists’ self-proclaimed caliphate.

"Violent extremism continues to represent a threat to the ECO region. Despite the territorial defeat of Daesh and other terrorist groups and the destruction of their self-proclaimed caliphate, extensive networks of extremist groups, especially Daesh in West, South and Central Asia, represent the most serious threat to the ECO region," Zarif said in an address to the 23rd meeting of ECO foreign ministers in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Tuesday.

He added that many parts of the region have been destabilized for close to two decades due to the mutually reinforcing foreign intervention, terrorism and extremism.

He stressed the importance of synergizing and forging a "common regional strategy" in order to halt the spread of the terrorists' ideology of hate and cut their financial resources.

The top Iranian diplomat emphasized that the Islamic Republic has always been ready to cooperate in drawing up a "comprehensive counter-extremism and terrorism strategy that fits the situation" in the region.

"In this context, a joint counter-narcotics campaign can drain one of the most important resources of extremist terror groups," Zarif said.

He noted that geographical proximity and several affinities in so many areas, including civilization, culture, religion and shared history have facilitated cooperation among ECO member countries.

"We are all sitting in the same boat facing the same challenges and opportunities," the Iranian foreign minister said.

He added that Iran strongly believes that regional cooperation and interaction are beneficial to the region, saying Tehran has always displayed its full commitment to the ECO objectives and acceded to all initiatives, programs and agreements within the organization.

"We are committed to developing a strong and prosperous ECO region and have allocated substantial resources in the form of development assistance and are determined to promote South–South cooperation within the ECO framework," Zarif pointed out.

Elsewhere in his speech, the Iranian foreign minister pointed to the adoption of ECO Vision 2025 during the organization's summit in Islamabad in February 2017, and called on all ECO member states to allocate extra-budgetary financial resources to help achieve common goals through a well- formulated scheme.

"With the ECO Vision as our agenda for the coming years, we expect to achieve by 2025 increased intra-regional trade and a bigger slice of global trade, facilitating commercial environment and flourishing tourism industry, better connectivity, improved energy cooperation, healthy environment and smooth visa regimes," he said.

It is imperative that all ECO member states employ their resources in an attempt to help enhance the organization's institutional and operational capacities with the purpose of enabling it "to respond in a timely and effective manner to the needs and aspirations of member states", Zarif added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani paid an official two-day visit to Pakistan to take part in the 13th ECO Summit.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his departure for Islamabad, Rouhani said Iran attached great importance to good relations with its neighbors.

He added, “Most of the ECO members are neighboring countries to Iran and strengthening multilateral cooperation is important for the future of the region.”

ECO is an intergovernmental regional organization which was established in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey for the purpose of promoting economic, technical and cultural cooperation among the member states.

In 1992, the organization was expanded to include seven new members. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are currently ECO member states.

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