PRETORIA — Iran's new foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting the only country in the world to have voluntarily surrendered its nuclear weapons: South Africa.
The two nations claim close ties and were quick to reaffirm their peaceful, constructive and lasting relationship during Zarif’s first official Africa visit as foreign minister, during which he and South Africa's International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane co-chaired the 11th meeting of the Iran-South Africa Joint Cooperation Commission, during which they discussed security, trade and other bilateral issues.
Following platitudes about Nelson Mandela and international cooperation, talk turned to Iran's continuing six-nation talks over its disputed nuclear activities, which Zarif said his nation is pursuing exclusively for peaceful purposes such as energy.
Many western countries and Israel fear Tehran is using the program to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
In Pretoria, Zarif urged countries to follow South Africa's lead and voluntarily relinquish nuclear weapons programs.
“I believe South Africa itself presents a great model for the rest of humanity to follow to rid themselves of these weapons which should never have been produced and which should never be again used in the international community," he said. "In our view, development, use and stockpiling of all weapons of mass destruction constitutes a crime that should not be allowed to continue, and certainly Iran for its part will do its best to contribute to the global disarmament effort."
Zarif also said Iran's nuclear aims have been misunderstood, lashing out at Iran's arch-enemy Israel, which has vowed it will not stand by and watch Iran develop nuclear weapons.
“Unfortunately, those who are raising allegations against Iran have a very dubious track record," he said. "Their violations of the rights of the Palestinian people is a very clear example of what [former U.S.] President Carter called an apartheid. So it is important for all of us to call a spade and to move forward, removing all of these misunderstandings, stopping fear-mongering and hopefully bringing about a greater understanding and tranquility to this important issue at the international level.”
Minister Nkoana-Mashabane also urged the West to lift crippling economic sanctions on Iran so South Africa could trade oil with Iran.
“South Africa, like all other peace-loving democratic countries that also respect human rights, like Iran, calls for lifting of unilateral sanctions which would be encouraged by these talks that the honorable minister had referred to," she said. "Conditions would be peaceful coexistence, acceptance that all countries, signatories in particular of the [non-proliferation treaty] have the right for peaceful usage of enriched uranium for energy needs, for health, technology usage.”
The top Iranian diplomat has also been meeting with other senior South African officials in hopes of expanding political, economic and cultural relations.