Zarif, Lavrov Call for Gulf Security Dialogue

March 6, 2018

On February 19, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif renewed his call for a new framework for security in the Persian Gulf region. For years, he has proposed a dialogue forum that would include the primarily Sunni Gulf states, Iraq and Shiite Iran to reduce tensions. He recently outlined his vision at the Munich Security Conference and at a Valdai Discussion Club conference in Moscow. “The arms race in our region—and no country represented in this forum is completely innocent in perpetuating it—is an example of the destructive and unnecessary rivalry that has made our neighborhood unsafe and insecure,” he said in Munich. “You cannot have security at the expense of the insecurity of your neighbor,” Zarif argued in Moscow.

Zarif proposed starting with modest confidence building measures leading to a non-aggression pact. Zarif suggested that Russia could use its growing influence in the region to facilitate a paradigm shift. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, voiced support for a wider Gulf dialogue at both conferences. The following are excerpted remarks by the two leaders.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

I tried yesterday in the Munich Conference to repeat what I said the previous year, and thankfully this year, this proposal, was supported by the U.N. Secretary General, by Sergei, by others, that we need to establish a new mechanism for security in the Persian Gulf region. We have the basis for that in an old legal framework, which is still valid, and that is Security Council Resolution 598, which brought the Iran-Iraq war to an end.

Paragraph eight of Security Council Resolution 598 calls for a regional security arrangement among the littoral states of the Persian Gulf. And that's where it's modest, but important, because that is the area where we’ve had four wars with a lot of bloodshed and a lot of human losses in the last four decades. So, we need to focus on that region, and I do not believe that we have any impediments for looking at a different future security perspective for that region.

I believe we need to abandon the old ideas. Old ideas don't work. Old ideas are defunct. Collective security, alliance formation, block formation, have only lead to the production of enemies. You remember Saddam Hussein was financed, armed by people and then he turned his arms against the people who financed him. That's the logic of alliance formation. Do you see the problems now with the GCC? We need to change that logic.

We need to change the logic based on two fundamental concepts. First, we need a strong region, not a strong man in the region. We have to recognize, all of us in the Persian Gulf region, need to join Iran in recognizing that nobody can be the hegemon of the region. All of us need to work together in a strong region. Let small and big powers in our region collectively contribute to security.

Second, we cannot forget our differences nor can we forget the disparities in size and power. We cannot simply neglect it. So, what do we do so that the smaller states are not worried about the bigger states? We need to create a new system, using the virtual metaphor, we need a network. We need security networking, rather than security alliances. We need to move. Security alliances are based on zero-sum approach, because they try to advance one side's security by including certain friends at the cost of the other side's insecurity by excluding the so-called enemies. And we've done that for a much too long a time. We need to change that approach by understanding that you cannot be secure while your neighbor is insecure. You cannot have security at the expense of the insecurity of your neighbor. So, in the Persian Gulf, we need to establish a security networking where small and large states in the Persian Gulf contribute together to a regional security framework.

Of course, in order to get there, we have the example of the Helsinki process, and the Secretary General on Friday stated before the Munich World Security Conference, that is the ticket principle and the confidence building measures. And we are ready to engage in confidence building measures. A ticket principle is clear. Respectful sovereignty, territorial integrity, no interference in the internal affairs of others, respect for national boundaries, inviolability of borders, respect for the self-determination of peoples. These are the principles that provide you a ticket for entering this Persian Gulf dialogue forum.

But then you need confidence building measures. Confidence building measures can be ambitious from military visits to reduction of armaments to procurement to transparency, even to joint military visits, exercises, all of that. And finally, a non-aggression pact. They can be also modest. Or we can start with more modest leading to more ambitious. The modest ones are promotion of tourism, promotion of economic investment, promotion of joint task forces to deal with issues ranging from nuclear safety to disaster management. We can do all of that in order to pave the way for a regional dialogue forum to advance discussion.

Let me conclude by making one statement. I believe Russia has a sober strategic perspective towards our region. And I believe using the increasing influence of Russia in the region, it can play a fundamental role in making it possible for this new paradigm to emerge, in at least to be modest, in the Persian Gulf region.

—Feb. 19, 2018, at the Valdai Discussion Club


As I said before this forum last year, Iran believes that our Persian Gulf region requires a fresh regional security architecture. We believe in, and have proposed, creating what we call a “strong region” as opposed to a “strong man in the region.” A strong region where small and large nations—even those with historical rivalries—contribute to stability.

This is simply recognizing the need to respect the interests of all stakeholders, which by its very nature will lead to stability, while hegemonic tendencies by any regional – or global power will, by its very nature, lead to insecurity. The arms race in our region—and no country represented in this forum is completely innocent in perpetuating it—is an example of the destructive and unnecessary rivalry that has made our neighborhood unsafe and insecure.

In a quest to create our “strong region”, we need to be realistic and accept our differences. We need to move from collective security and alliance formations to inclusive concepts such as security networking which can address issues that range from divergence of interests to power and size disparities. Security networking is a non-zero-sum approach that accepts that security is indivisible, as opposed to alliances and blocks, which are fundamentally based on the defunct zero-sum approach of gaining security at the expense of the insecurity of others.

The nuclear deal was an example of such non-zero-sum thinking. Recognizing differences but also recognizing a common goal, and maintaining respect for the interests of all parties guided the difficult negotiations that led to the successful conclusion of the JCPOA. And that may be why those who see everything in terms of one-sided profiteering are so intrinsically opposed to it.

Immediately after the conclusion of JCPOA, Iran sought to use the same approach for the Persian Gulf and proposed to create a ‘Regional Dialogue Forum’. That proposal fell on deaf ears, but is still on the table. It is the only way out. It could become, if our neighbors join us, a forum that will be used as an instrument for helping organize and advance dialogue at all formal and informal levels in our region, and while encouraging inter-governmental and formal dialogue, it can also promote dialogue between scholars and thinkers.

Distinguished participants,

The parameters of Iran’s proposed regional architecture are simple but effective: rather than trying to ignore conflicts of interests, it will accept differences. Being premised on inclusivity, it can act as a firewall to prevent the emergence of an oligarchy among big states, and importantly, it allows smaller states to participate and have their interests protected.

Like the Helsinki process, the future security architecture in the Persian Gulf should be based on the “ticket principles” and “CBM baskets”. All countries around this strategic yet volatile waterway should be able to enter by committing to a series of common standards enshrined in the UN Charter, such as sovereign equality of states; refraining from the threat or use of force; peaceful resolution of conflicts; respect for the territorial integrity; inviolability of borders; non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states; and respect for self-determination within states.

We also recognize that we need confidence-building measures in the Persian Gulf: from joint military visits to pre-notification of military exercises; and from transparency measures in armament procurements to reducing military expenditures; all of which could eventually lead to a regional non-aggression pact. We can begin with easier to implement issues such as the promotion of tourism, joint investments, or even joint task forces on issues ranging from nuclear safety to pollution to disaster management.

At a time when we are dangerously close to escalating conflicts that will affect our children and grandchildren, I encourage my counterparts in the Persian Gulf to join Iran in making these proposals a reality.

—Feb. 18, 2018, at the Munich Security Conference

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

As I have already said, we are working with all the political forces in each and every conflict of this kind, and the same applies to the region in general. We work with all countries without exception, including those with opposing views. We see a lingering danger of external forces playing their geopolitical games in the region, including by playing on the relations between Sunni and Shia Muslims within the Islamic World, which is the most dangerous thing to do.

I strongly believe that we need to find ways to get this dialogue going. We have had an initiative for many years now to start a conversation on confidence building measures and security in the Persian Gulf region with all the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We have been promoting this initiative without trying to impose it on anyone, even though we believe that there is no alternative. On a broader scale, I think that this format would be also beneficial for the entire Middle East. Only recently Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, put forward an initiative of this kind, and Russia supported it at the recent Munich Security Conference.

Question: You mentioned a new security mechanism in the region. Could you clarify this point? Does it mean that the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) should be dissolved before its member countries can participate in a new agreement? Who do you think should become members of this new regional alignment? Will it include only individual countries, or will the GCC be able to join as a bloc?

Lavrov: Regarding the first question about the mechanism of confidence and security in the Persian Gulf, as I already said, we have been discussing it for at least 15 years now. We stressed the importance of them considering this initiative at every ministerial meeting with our GCC colleagues. A considerable part of the Council members spoke in a constructive manner. I hope that we will be able to help this organisation start a sensible dialogue with Iran in the near future. Of course, no one is suggesting, and Mr Zarif confirmed this, that the GCC should be dissolved.

When we came up with our idea many years ago, we had in mind the GCC and Iran with the assistance of external players. We named the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the European Union, the League of Arab States, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation as a possible configuration for such external support. Should such a process become a matter of practical implementation, the main part will be played by the Arabs and the Iranians, who, in fact, are the primary and key beneficiaries of such a project.


Lavrov: If I comprehend this correctly, you are talking about a new Palestinian-Israeli settlement mechanism. We are aware that the President of the State of Palestine, Mr Abbas, has been strongly promoting this idea after the Palestinians expressed their thoughts about Washington’s decision on Jerusalem, which was construed as running counter to all the existing agreements, since all the key matters of the final status can be reliably and sustainably resolved only in the context of direct talks. President Abbas brought up this initiative when he was in Moscow and had talks with President Putin. He spoke in favour of returning the role of the Quartet and not creating a situation where someone is trying to usurp the functions of an intermediary. He also said that the Quartet should be reinforced and expanded primarily through the inclusion of the Arab states. This fully corresponds to the initiative which Russia has been promoting for 10 years now – to add a representative of the Arab League to the Quartet. Many previous meetings of the Quartet were organised in a way where the four got together and agreed on something. After that, the Arab League representatives were invited and informed about the decision. From the outset, I thought it was not a very polite and correct way of doing things. We have always advocated the idea that the representatives of the League of Arab States should directly participate in developing the decisions made by the Quartet. The rest of our partners have taken this proposal with varying degrees of neutrality or negativity. So far, it has not been implemented.

—Feb. 19, 2018, at the Valdai Discussion Club (translation by the Russian foreign ministry)


Lavrov: Russia has not changed its policy approaches to cooperation with the EU. We would like to see the EU united on the basis of respect for the fundamental interests of its member states. They must be free to determine how to develop their economies and foreign economic relations, for example, whether to meet their energy needs based on pragmatic, commercial approaches or under the influence of political and ideological considerations.

We proceed from the assumption that the EU can play an active, responsible and, let me stress it, independent role in international affairs. I have taken note of Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger’s interview with the Bild newspaper, in which the respected Chairman of the Munich Security Conference speaks about the need for the EU’s higher foreign policy profile. We welcome his idea of cooperation between Russia, the EU, the US and China in creating a security architecture for the Middle East. A similar approach could be applied to the Persian Gulf.

Question (retranslated into English): You mentioned my Bild article about cooperation between Russia, the United States and other countries in the Middle East. From Russia’s perspective, what needs to be done in order to create a more systematised security architecture in a region plagued by such a large number of crises? What does it take to make this happen?

Lavrov: To recognise that all countries of that region - Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, other countries of the Persian Gulf, including Iran - have their legitimate interests there, and not to approach these issues solely from the standpoint of geopolitical games where it is either the West against Russia, or the West against Iran, or everyone wants to be together with Turkey provided it behaves differently.

Of course, there is another, even more dangerous two-pronged approach to these problems (I’m referring to differences within the Islamic world) of seeking to try to address regional issues through fomenting discord between Sunnis and Shiites. I think this is fatally dangerous.

The group of people, which Wolfgang mentioned in his interview, who represent the United States, Russia, the EU, and China, are probably a combination of external players who, to a certain degree, may have influence on all sides. Some speak to one group of protagonists, while others talk to other participants of this drama. If we add the Arab League leaders to this equation, combined, they represent an external mechanism capable of influencing the situation on the ground. If we could achieve this, then, I think, we could come up with proposals which would, to a large extent, rely on the experience of the Conferences on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Helsinki process. There’s no need to invent anything new here. They may include confidence-building measures, military transparency, invitations to exercises, briefings, and much more. I believe these are not too complicated things to start with. The most important thing now is to convince the antagonists that external players will not support conflicts along ethnic or confessional fault lines. We will be ready for such contacts at any time.

—Feb. 17, 2018, at the Munich Security Conference (translation by the Russian foreign ministry)