Opening Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the 9th Joint Bilateral Commission between South Africa and Iran, Pretoria, 21 August 2006

Your Excellency, Minister Manoucher Motakki,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Distinguished Delegates,
Business Leaders from South Africa and Iran,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is both an honour and a privilege for me to welcome to you to the 9th Joint Bilateral Commission (JBC) between South Africa and Iran. Allow me to extend a special and warm welcome to the Iranian delegation and to express the hope that they will not only engage in fruitful and productive discussions during the JBC, but that they will also enjoy their stay in our beautiful city, Tshwane.

Your Excellency, this session of the JBC provides us with the opportunity to assess the progress that has been made since the previous session, which was held in 2004 in Tehran. In this regard, it is gratifying to note that there has been significant contact between our respective countries in both the multilateral and the bilateral spheres.

Firstly, with regard to the enhancement of South-South cooperation, we have seen South Africa and Iran display a strong commitment towards strengthening and promoting the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). In close cooperation with Iran (as Chair of the IOR-ARC), the first meeting of the Working Group of Heads of Diplomatic Missions of the IOR-ARC was led by HE Deputy Minister Sheykhatar, in Pretoria earlier in May this year. I have been informed that the meeting was a success in that it also provided an opportunity for participants to share ideas for the 10th Anniversary of the IOR-ARC, which will be held in 2007.

Indeed, the Working Group is critical in helping not only to monitor the progress and speedy implementation of projects and programmes of the Association, but also to contribute to fulfilling, in the spirit of multilateralism, the Association's founding ideals of increased cooperation and shared benefits to all. Your Excellency, I am sure that you will agree that South Africa and Iran must continue their collaboration in all matters relating to the IOR-ARC.

South Africa regards this inter-continental initiative as complementary to other inter-regional initiatives such as the New Africa Asia Strategic Partnership (NAASP). As you are aware, following the Asian African Summit that was held in Jakarta in 2005, the next Senior Officials Meeting will take place in South Africa from 1-3 September this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to appeal to you, when engaging in discussions on NAASP, to explore the possibilities of how South Africa and Iran could engage in further areas of co-operation in the three tiers of NAASP interaction; namely government-to-government (political solidarity, economic cooperation and socio-cultural relations); sub-regional cooperation; and people-to-people exchange.

We must focus on building a closer partnership between Africa and Asia and we welcome the recent new commitment of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the NEPAD.

South Africa's position in relation to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes by Iran is well known and based on the NPT which provides under Article IV, and in conformity with Articles I, II and III, for the "inalienable" right of all members, including Iran, to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. South Africa has consistently stated that the matter of Iran's use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes can be resolved peacefully through negotiations within the IAEA. We hope that the outstanding issues within the IAEA will be resolved as soon as possible and full support provided to its Director General. However, as we all know, the matter has been taken to the UN Security Council and we urge all parties to avoid confrontation and resume negotiations.

We have witnessed a major tragedy unfold in the Middle East and like the rest of the world the South African Government was relieved to learn that Resolution 1701, aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council last week. The dangerous situation in the Middle East, and the grave humanitarian crisis is a source of utmost concern to us. The South African Government remains steadfast in its resolve and commitment to support the process leading to a just and sustainable peace in the region.

Your Excellency, turning to Africa where we face major challenges not only in terms of development but also post-conflict reconstruction and development I am pleased to report that successful elections have now taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These were the first democratic elections in over four decades since that country achieved independence on 30 June 1960. Close to 25 million out of the targeted 28 million eligible voters registered for these elections. The elections were conducted in a smooth manner, and we congratulate the Congolese people on their achievement in this regard.

Your Excellency, I am aware that during this JBC, the Economic Working Group will take an in depth look at the trade relations between South Africa and Iran. Despite the fact that trade and investment have grown steadily since the establishment of this JBC in 1995, the R 13 billion trade deficit that still exists between our two countries points to impediments that must be investigated and resolved.

Over the last year, the South African Government has been briefed on numerous positive developments with regard to the economic relationship between our respective countries. We appreciate the awarding of the lucrative dollar contract to MTN to establish and operate a second mobile operator license. We are also cognisant of the fact that the ARAYA-SASOL Joint Venture Polymer plant has started commercial operations this year and that negotiations between SASOL, PETROSA and the Iranian Government to establish eco-friendly gas-to liquids plants in Iran are far advanced.

We need to advance close co-operation between our respective mining sectors, both in terms of mining as well as mineral beneficiation.

I have also been informed that the number of South African companies trading with Iran continues to increase, leading to much needed broadening of the trade base.

Your Excellency, today we see under one roof, business people from both the South African and from the Iranian private sector. While certain South African companies are involved in business ventures in Iran, others are seeking the opportunities to enter the Iranian market. South Africa certainly welcomes the interest expressed by the Iranian private sector to embark on business ventures in South Africa. Indeed South Africa welcomes interested partners who recognise its entrepreneurial sprit, and helps it to achieve its goals.

To ensure that we are successful in that which we have undertaken, the South African government has embarked on the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA). AsgiSA aims at enhancing and fast tracking our existing strategies on redressing the inequalities of the past and existing imbalances through broad-based black empowerment and addressing the critical skills shortage and education needs of our country. Some of the priority sectors that offer significant potential in terms of shared and accelerated growth include, tourism, chemicals, mineral beneficiation, capital goods etc. In the forthcoming sessions, Iranian business representatives can meet and discuss with their South African counter-parts on how best to identify a niche for themselves in these priority sectors, which could in turn benefit both South Africa and Iran.

Over the next two days, discussions will turn to issues of cooperation and the progress that has been made by South Africa and Iran with regard to a wide range of sectors, including trade and industry, mining, the environment, arts and culture, sport etc. These wide-ranging issues reflect the current status of our excellent bilateral relations.

Finally, I would like to wish you well in your deliberations, and to urge you to seize the occasion to reach agreement on matters that will have a long lasting and meaningful impact on improving and enhancing the quality of lives of the people of our respective countries.

I would now like to invite my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, His Excellency Minister Manoucher Motakki, to make his opening remarks….Minister Motakki.

Issued by Ronnie Mamoepa on 082 990 4853

Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

21 August 2006


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