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Can Iran and Saudi Arabia Co-Exist?

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“We should facilitate people engaging with each other. We should not dictate to them what they should do. We should facilitate the people of Syria deciding about their own future, rather than setting the parameters on what they need to do.

We should also agree that Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot exclude each other from the region.

Iran and Saudi Arabia can accommodate each other in the region if they each define their specific interests in all these places. But that specific interest, in order to be accommodated, should not be the exclusion of the other party.

Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia has followed a practice of exclusion, to the point that it has tried to even exclude Iran from [Syria] talks. It was big news when my friend [Saudi Foreign Minister] Adel Al Jubeir decided to come to Vienna in my presence. That shouldn’t have been big news.

That’s only natural for Iran and Saudi Arabia and other players to sit in the same place and try to resolve the problem. The problem is the paradigm – the paradigm of trying to define one’s interests in the exclusion of the other.

I believe Iran and Saudi Arabia can have shared interests in Syria – a stable Syria, no terrorist base in Syria, a Syria that is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious where the interests of everybody is safe and preserved and assured. We can all agree on that.

We can agree that Yemen needs to have inter-Yemeni dialogue leading to a government that is friendly to its neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia – that is important for Yemen. We can agree with that. We can share that interest.

And if we can share that interest, Prince Turki [bin Faisal Al Saud], we don’t need to recriminate each other. We don’t need to engage in rehearsal of past narratives about grievances.

We have a lot of grievances about Saudi Arabia. Please do not forget that we lost 464 people due to the negligence at least in the last Hajj pilgrimage. But we didn’t break diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. We didn’t even downgrade diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

We need to work together. We have enough challenges in order to move forward. And we are prepared to work with Saudi Arabia.”

Editor’s note: Transcript of remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a panel discussion of the annual Munich Security Conference in February 2016, in response to an intervention from the floor by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the former Director of General Intelligence and a former Saudi Ambassador to the United States. He had pressed Zarif on whether Iran has done enough to control its Syrian and Iraqi allies that Saudi Arabia views as a threat.