Remarks by Deputy Minister Ebrahim I Ebrahim during Bilateral Meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs of Iran, Dr Hadi Solaimanpour, Pretoria, 8 March 2011

Your Excellency, Dr Solaimanpour;
Your Excellency Ambassador Ebrahimi Asl;
Distinguished delegation from the Islamic Republic of Iran

I am very honoured to have the opportunity to receive you in South Africa today. At the outset, I wish to extend my congratulations to you, Dr Solaimanpour, on your appointment as Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs. I am aware that you have served in this position for some time already, but we have not had the opportunity to meet since you had assumed responsibility for managing your country’s relations with our continent. At the same time, I would be grateful if you would be so kind to convey my best wishes to your predecessor, Mr Baqeri, who was a very gracious host when I visited Iran in September 2009.

There has not been regular high-level interaction between our two countries for some time, but I believe it is important to state that the Government of South Africa places great value on its relationship with Iran and is committed to further enhancing and broadening the scope of our cooperation in many fields.

Your Excellency, we believe that the Joint Commission is a very effective mechanism for bilateral engagement and I am pleased to inform you that my Minister has agreed to host the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran this year for the Eleventh Meeting of the Joint Commission. Once the dates have been determined, we will communicate to your Government through diplomatic channels. The Joint Commission will provide us with an opportunity to have detailed technical discussions on all aspects of our relations.

Your Excellency, I look forward to exchanging views with you on developments in South Africa, in Iran and in our immediate regions, but wish to suggest that we deal with this during our second engagement in Cape Town where a smaller group and a more informal setting would allow for a more constructive engagement.

I hope that we would be able during this session to discuss some issues related to our bilateral relations and ways in which these could be enhanced. We consider ourselves to be good friends of the Iranian people and we therefore believe that it is our responsibility to speak up when there are issues that concern us. In this regard, I should mention that we are following events in Iran very closely and have always been appreciative of the open and vibrant political debate that has been a characteristic of the Iranian political environment. It is of concern to us, therefore, to see reports that opposition leaders such as Mr Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mr Mehdi Karroubi appear to be restrained in their ability to participate actively in the political process in Iran.

As you know, my Minister has also written to former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki about the death penalty imposed on Ms Sakineh Ashtiani and we are acknowledging the response that had been received. It appears to us that there are human rights issues that the Iranian Government should address, such as those related to the death penalty, as well as political, economic, social and religious freedoms and I hope that we could have a discussion on these.  I am conscious of the undertaking that we had given to Mr Rezvani, who visited South Africa as a special envoy, that we would have detailed discussions on human rights issues within our Joint Commission. This is still our intention and we are also looking forward to receive the Head of the Human Rights Council of Iran, in South Africa during April 2011.

I am taking the liberty to raise these issues, because we want to remove misunderstandings that may impact on the development of our relations. At the same time, I must emphasise that there are many issues on which we find convergence. We recognise the important regional role that the Islamic Republic of Iran is playing and the contribution that it is able to make to our country’s development. Our commitment to the development of relations with Iran should therefore not be underestimated and I believe that this engagement is an important step towards the consolidation of these relations.

With these brief remarks, may I again welcome you and your delegation to South Africa and express the hope that your visit will be an enjoyable one. I would now like to invite you, Your Excellency, to make your opening remarks before we proceed with our agenda.

I thank you

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