Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, denied reports from some media and intelligence sources that his country has military bases in Eritrea.
The Foreign Minister reiterated that Iran continues to have strong ties to countries in the red sea area with its warships making regular visits to what he called brotherly countries.
Eritrea, which is locked in a bitter border dispute with Ethiopia, has a 1,200 km long coastline in the red sea region, the longest coastal area on the red sea.
“Iran has had a presence in the red sea for quite a while now. The visit of our warships to Port Sudan was purely coincidental with the Yarmouk strike in Khartoum, which happened in October 2012, ” said Salehi, adding that Iranian naval activities have increased in the area in support of the drive to fight piracy in the red sea and Bab-El-Mandeb area and to secure the safety of its commercial ships.
The Iranian FM who was on a short visit to Addis Ababa during the 20th African Union (AU) Summit said the country’s presence in Africa dates back centuries.
He further said, ever since the Islamic revolution back in 1979, the country has increased its presence on the continent with more than 30 embassies and missions.
“Our assistance is unconditional; my country’s offering of assistance is unlike the West’s which comes with a list of conditions,” Salehi stated, adding that assistance from Iran are available in the form of education, technology, industry, science, engineering and infrastructure building.
“Africa has a bright future. It’s a continent of the future, so we keep on enhancing our bilateral relations with all African countries and with African institutions including the AU, which my presence attests to,” said Salehi.
AMIA case agreement
One case the Iranian FM was keen to stress on was the AMIA Bombing probe agreement the country recently entered with Argentina to find the truth behind the bombing.
The AMIA bombing was an attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building.
It occurred in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds and was Argentina’s deadliest bombing ever. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, among the largest in Latin America.
Israeli officials, some former Argentine and western officials had suspected and officially blamed the Islamic Republic of Iran and its ally the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah for the bombings.
However, both Iran and Hezbollah, had denied all involvement in the bombings.
Salehi said the recent agreement is a culmination of discreet discussions between both sides that started about two years ago.
He further said the resolution of the case will be done through judicial cooperation, and with the help of independent lawyers, who will be designated by both countries.
Many Argentine and International Jewish Organizations as well as Israeli government officials have condemned the agreement.
Some countries play double games with Mali and Syria
Regarding Syria, the FM said, Iran has been consistent with its belief that it’s incumbent on all governments to meet the legitimate demands of its people, be it Bahrain or Syria.
The remark was a nuanced reference to the two year old uprising in the island gulf kingdom, led mainly by the Shiite majority against the Sunni Monarchy, which has so far claimed scores of lives.
The mainly peaceful uprising has been under the media radar, unlike the armed uprising in Syria now, which has killed an estimated 60,000 people so far.
Iran is a country with a Shiite majority, while the government of Syria, which is its ally, is dominated by an offshoot of the Shiite sect, the Alawite.
Salehi said the solution is the implementation of the Geneva plan, made under the auspices of the previous United Nations (UN) Envoy to Syria, Kofi Anan.
The plan, adopted last year with the agreement of all five permanent UN Security Council (UNSC), members, would see the formation of a transitional government until presidential elections in 2014.
But the plan has so far met with resistance, because of its omission on the fate of President Bashar Al Assad, from Syrian opposition figures who insist on his departure as a precondition for any kind of negotiations.
“All solutions should be based on normal internal political developments in Syria, and without internal interference from outside,” said Salehi adding that all countries that want to assist the Syrian people, should facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the government.
He further said there’s a peace quartet, also known as the Islamic Quartet, offered by President Mohammed Mursi of Egypt with countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan also expressing their interest to assist the quartet (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey) in seeking a way out of the bloody conflict.
Salehi took a jab at some countries who he said were intervening in Mali to fight Islamic militants while helping the same breed of militants whom the Syrian government is fighting.
“This is the dilemma of this age, how you can be so contradictory, so it’s about time to stop using such elements as political instruments,” said Salehi adding that it’s also appropriate for all countries, especially in Africa, to seek a peaceful solution for Mali.
He further said he’s been in contact with the Malian government and has made official visits to Benin and Burkina Faso, where the latter is also an intermediary on behalf of the AU.
Iran is currently the president of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and says it wants to use its position as such to settle the dispute in Mali, as well as assist refugees inside Mali and those who’ve fled to neighbouring countries.
“We think the sooner we settle the dispute the better it is all around, before it deepens, seeing cases where if it’s not attended in time or in due course, it may develop into an unsolvable issue,” said Salehi.
NAM, formed in 1961, is a group of states which aren’t aligned formally with or against any major power bloc. The movement has 120 members including Palestine and 17 observer countries.