Closing Remarks by H.E. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Republic of South Africa, on the occasion of the 12th Meeting of the Iran-South Africa Joint Commission, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 11 May 2015
Thank you programme director,
Your Excellency, Dr Zarif,
Distinguished members of the Iranian and South African delegations,
Ladies and gentlemen of the media,
The South African delegation and I are honoured to have been invited by His Excellency, the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit Tehran for the Twelfth Meeting of the Joint Commission between our two countries. It is always a pleasure for me to be in Tehran.
Iran occupies a special place in our hearts for the role it played in our liberation struggle. The Islamic Republic stood by us during our darkest days, cutting ties with the apartheid regime. Your revolution was our revolution. You showed us that emancipation was possible, whatever the odds.
Democratic South Africa and Iran have had bilateral relations for 21 years; and over that period we have not allowed outside pressures to interfere with our close friendship. The pace of high level visits has increased over the last few years. Today, I am proud to lead the biggest and strongest South African delegation to ever come to Iran. The delegation comprises around 45 officials from six government departments, a group of Parliamentarians and about 60 businesspeople.
The Joint Commission with Iran that we are here for, is our biggest in the Middle East region, and one of South Africa’s oldest with any country in the world, confirmation not only of the warmth of our friendship, but also of the of the strategic nature of our relations. Yesterday I met with Minister Zarif, and what became absolutely clear is that there is a shared determination and political will on both sides to reinforce relations in all spheres.
We have decided that the time has come to take whatever action is necessary to propel the Iran-South Africa relationship to greater heights. For too long we have spoken of untapped potential. At this Joint Commission, we have made a commitment to ensure implementation of all agreements. You will see from our substantial joint communiqué that the seven working groups have identified a wide but focused range of key areas of future cooperation, and that we have set out deliverable projects and programmes that are time-bound and outcomes-based. Among these are initiatives in education, health, investment, mining, transport, agriculture, science and technology, and, of course, energy.
As developing countries with complimentary profiles and a shared commitment to eradicating poverty, South Africa and the Islamic Republic are natural economic partners. But unfortunately the rapid growth in our trade relations has been interrupted by punishing sanctions that have a heavy-handed extra-territorial force. South Africa has always spoken out against the language of threats and coercion, including the unilateral sanctions that have been unfairly and unjustly imposed to single out the Islamic Republic of Iran. These sanctions are not only sanctions on Iran but sanctions on all of us.
I would like to reiterate what I said at the business forum yesterday. Unlike others, South Africa is not waiting for sanctions to be lifted to do business with Iran. South Africa has been in Iran even in the toughest times. Trade has already grown by more than 50% over the past year. I wish to congratulate our two business communities for their work to set up the South Africa-Iran Business Council, our new bridge to link our two business communities more deeply to each other.
We were very encouraged by the political agreement recently reached in the nuclear talks. It has always been our position that Iran has an inalienable right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in line with the provisions of the NPT. As a country that has the rare distinction of having acquired nuclear weapons and then voluntarily dismantling them, South Africa can recognise in Iran a state that shares our conviction that nuclear weapons are immoral, futile, and counterproductive, and that has taken the strategic decision not to pursue the nuclear bomb, despite living nearby to nuclear-armed states. Like Iran, South Africa firmly believes that the Middle East should be made a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, as we have done in Africa with the Pelindaba Treaty. The South African government gives its full encouragement and support to the negotiators as they work to conclude a comprehensive agreement. We hope that the final outcome will be fair and just to the people of Iran, and that the sanctions will be lifted without delay.
South Africa joins the Secretary-General of the UN and the government of Iran in expressing our grave concern about the continued fighting and bombardment in Yemen and its impact on innocent civilians. We urge all parties engaged in military operations to protect civilians and ensure immediate humanitarian access and the delivery of aid to alleviate the catastrophic humanitarian situation. Like Iran, we are calling for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution by facilitating and promoting an inclusive Yemeni-led dialogue towards the establishment of a broad-based unity government.
South Africa is appreciative of the constructive role that Iran continues to play in international organizations and in particular its role as current Chair of the Non Alignment Movement (NAM), where it has made able use of its leadership to actively champion the cause of developing countries.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a pivotal country in the Middle East Region whose influence needs to be recognised as being essential to the resolution of the challenges in the region, from extremism to inclusive economic development to maintaining peace and stability. We believe that resolving the Iranian nuclear issue will lead to a major reduction of tension in the region and will make a key contribution to global efforts to reverse the deteriorating security situation in the Middle East.
Iran is amongst the oldest civilizations of the world and has distinguished itself through its enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contributions. With the successful resolution of the nuclear dispute, we look forward to Iran being allowed to take its rightful place among the leading nations on the global stage.
Dr Zarif and I look forward to our further engagement and the convening of the Thirteenth session of the Joint Commission in South Africa.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
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