Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday called on Iranian President Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi during his visit to the neighbouring country, according to the Foreign Office (FO).
The FO said that Bilawal conveyed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s greetings to President Raisi and also extended an invitation to visit Pakistan.
“The foreign minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s keen desire to strengthen bilateral relations, which are rooted deep in shared history and commonalities of faith, culture and heritage.
“He highlighted the importance of regular exchanges to advance economic and energy cooperation, regional connectivity, operationalisation of barter trade and border sustenance marketplaces, and facilitation of Zaireen visiting Iran for pilgrimage,” the FO said in a statement.
It added that Bilawal also took up the issue of the release and transfer of Pakistani prisoners detained in Iranian prisons.
The Iranian president welcomed FM Bilawal and underscored that the two countries were “bound by close historic linkages and strong fraternal ties”.
Raisi noted that Iran attached great importance to its economic and trade relations with Pakistan, which had considerable potential for further growth.
Cooperation in energy sector
Earlier in the day, Bilawal said Pakistan was committed to strengthening its cooperation with Iran in the energy sector through the import of additional electricity.
Addressing a press conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Bilawal elaborated on their discussion. He said their dialogue took stock of the “entire gauntlet” of bilateral relations and identified ways to enhance them further in order to match their true potential in areas such as trade, investment, connectivity, border management, cultural and education cooperation.
On trade, the foreign minister said he was “glad” that Pakistan and Iran had come closer to resolving one of the major obstacles in the expansion of bilateral trade through the operationalisation of barter trade mechanism, formalisation of cross-border exchanges through the opening of new border crossings and promotion of trade through border market places.
He said such steps were “measures of our shared commitment to the provision of opportunities for enhanced economic and commercial activities that’ll benefit the people of Iran and Pakistan”, adding that they would help in improving the livelihood and welfare of people at the border areas.
FM Bilawal said he discussed with Amir-Abdollahian the possibility of exchanging prisoners under the existing legal framework so they could complete their sentences in their own countries.
The foreign minister also appreciated Iran’s hospitality and facilitation of Pakistani pilgrims, adding that there were talks on the provision of further services for the pilgrims which formed a “bond of friendship” between the two countries.
On the international front, Bilawal said they discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan and agreed that “Afghans must be supported at this critical juncture, including through access to frozen financial assets.”
He said the world expected a move towards “inclusivity and effective counter-terrorism action” from the Afghan authorities.
Bilawal said he had also briefed FM Abdollahian on the human rights situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir and thanked the Iranian leadership for its steadfast support on the Kashmir dispute.
He said they also discussed the rising tide of Islamophobia and the recent derogatory remarks by Indian officials that had “deeply offended” the global Muslim community.
“It’s time for the international community to show a common resolve against xenophobia, islamophobia, intolerance and incitement to violence on basis of religion or belief,” FM Bilawal said.
He said Pakistan and Iran had long historic ties and he wanted to take the existing bilateral relationship to new heights.
“On behalf of the Government of Pakistan, I convey a message of goodwill and cordiality to Iranian brothers and sisters,” Bilawal said, adding that building close relations with Iran was a high priority for himself and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
FM Bilawal also expressed support for Iran in the ongoing nuclear deal talks, adding that he looked forward to the day when a conclusion could be reached that was the “right of the people of Iran”.
Earlier, FM Bilawal reached Iran on a two-day visit to hold talks with Iranian dignitaries on a range of issues, including bilateral ties, trade, regional security and Islamophobia.
This is Bilawal’s first official visit to Iran. He is visiting the country at the invitation of Iranian FM Amir-Abdollahian, who welcomed him upon his arrival in the neighbouring country.
State-run APP shared a video of Bilawal sitting with Abdollahian and other dignitaries soon after his arrival.
The FO statement said Bilawal was to share views with his Iranian counterpart on all areas of mutual interest.
It added that in delegation-level talks during the visit, “the two sides will review all facets of bilateral relations, including trade and economic ties, electricity supply from Iran, border sustenance markets, road and rail connectivity, and facilitation of Zaireen”.
“They will also review regional security situation with particular focus on developments in Afghanistan and South Asia, as well as combating Islamophobia,” the statement added.
According to the FO, Bilawal’s visit to Iran is part of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries. “The last meeting between the two foreign ministers was held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at Davos on 26 May 2022.”
In concluding remarks, the FO statement highlighted that “Pakistan and Iran enjoy close cooperative ties, based on shared geography, cultural affinities, and historic people-to-people linkages. These fraternal relations have been further strengthened through frequent high-level exchanges. The two countries are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022”.
Bilawal looks to enhance economic cooperation
Bilawal had shared similar views with the official Iranian news outlet IRNA a day before leaving for Iran, during an informal talk with journalists.
“Iran is our neighbour and in Islam, neighbours have rights. We believe that relations between [the] people of Pakistan and Iran, including cultural and spiritual, are historic,” he had said.
The foreign minister had added that economic cooperation and coordination between the two countries had much potential to be explored and exploited.
On the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline project, Bilawal said: “Its foundation was laid by former president Asif Ali Zardari and we would want international obligations, their framework and the deal to progress so that we can unlock the potential in our relations further.”
Pakistan wants to construct a 1,100-kilometre gas pipeline, known as the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project, from Port Qasim in Karachi, in Sindh, to Kasur in Punjab. The $2.5 billion project is tentatively slated to begin next year, though an initial agreement was first signed in 2015 and a second in 2021.
Bilawal also expressed these views during an interview with Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) hours before leaving for the two-day trip.
He said that “facilitating trade and exploiting the true potentials of Iran and Pakistan is important for us” and that he looked forward to improving and enhancing the relationship between the two countries.
The foreign minister elaborated that Pakistan wanted to enhance its economic activity with all countries and “we are focusing on economic diplomacy as you have mentioned there has been a lot of cooperation in the past with Iran and we look forward to enhancing this cooperation”.
“We want to enhance progress on border markets and go a long way to facilitate commercial activity on both ends and I am looking forward to having meaningful conversations with my counterparts to unlock the true potential of the economic relationship,” he added.
Moreover, IRNA quoted him as saying, that there was a lot more potential for both sides to enhance tourism.
“And I am really hoping that we will be able to discuss these issues, enhance the modes and means of transport between the two countries, and encourage not only, obviously religious and spiritual tourism between the two countries. but also economic tourism and people-to-people activities.”
On Afghanistan, he said: “I think the situation in Afghanistan is on everyone’s mind, particularly those of us who are in the region or in the neighbourhood who are directly impacted by the developments in Afghanistan, and I am sure I would have deep meaningful conversations on this topic as well.”