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Ambassador of Iran to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost on Wednesday said that Pakistan and Iran have no choice but to sit together and move forward on bilateral cooperation by setting aside the past misunderstandings.

Speaking at a roundtable/panel discussion on 'Pakistan-Iran Relations: Challenges and Prospects,' organised by Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), the Iranian ambassador asserted that Pakistan and Iran have no conflict of interest and there is no fundamental dispute between the two neighbours.

"There is a lot of potential to enhance bilateral cooperation in various areas between the two countries including the energy sector. Iranian gas at cheap price will benefit Pakistan and help in addressing the energy crisis," he said, adding that Iran is not facing UN sanctions and the sanctions imposed by the US can be averted.

Referring to the two ports, Gwadar and Chabahar, the ambassador said that Iran has never considered Gwadar as a rival port to its Chabahar, adding that there is need for cooperation between the two ports.

Talking about the unity among the Muslim countries, he said that Iran has always advocated greater cooperation and unity among the Muslim Ummah. Without naming Saudi Arabia, he said that Iran is not convinced with the estranged relationship with the Muslim countries and it wants cooperation and good ties with all the Muslim countries.

As far as relations between Pakistan and Iran are concerned, he said that the two countries have no choice but to sit together to remove the misunderstandings of the past for the bight future of the people of the two countries.

Honardoost said true success of Prime Minister Khan's recent visit to Iran could be judged by keeping in view the fact that third party has been active to drive a wedge between the two countries. He said there is no conflict of interest between Pakistan and Iran, which provided a good basis for working for developing the relationship to its full potential.

In his view Pakistan's import of gas from Iran would not be affected by US sanctions which, he said, were unilateral and illegal. He said Pakistan and Iran have no choice but to come together. "They cannot turn their back on each other despite pressures," he stressed.

He categorically rejected allegations against Iran regarding terror incidents in Pakistan, saying: "Iran can never think about destabilising Pakistan or working against its interests."

Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, in his key note speech, recalled how Prime Minister Khan and the Iranian leadership overcame their communication gap during the Premier's visit to Iran through some candid talk.

"It was a very positive visit. Ice has been broken and foundation has been laid for better ties. We now have to build on it," he said in his assessment of Prime Minster Khan's maiden trip to Iran.

He pointed out that several countries have continued trading with Iran despite sanctions, adding that Pakistan too needs to keep its interest supreme and explore ways for completing the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. He noted that absence of banking channels has been a major hindrance in development of ties; therefore, a barter mechanism is under discussion for promoting bilateral trade.

Chairman Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Mushahid Hussain, while presiding over the session, said the two neighbouring countries enjoy convergences in geography and culture with Allama Iqbal being the cementing factor. He asserted that there is no incompatibility of interest on core issues.

However, he observed that there are concerns, mostly in security domain, which are being addressed through an ongoing and sustained security dialogue.

He said that Pakistan would never support a military adventure in the region and would not allow its territory to be used against Iran. He opined that scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal is detrimental for global and regional peace.

PPP leader Senator Farhatullah Babar hailed Prime Minister Khan's remarks on terrorism during his Iran's visit, saying relations can be improved only by beginning with a clean slate.

"There should be truth speaking on both sides and the issue of ungoverned spaces on either sides of the border needs to be tackled immediately," he said and regretted that in the past this important relationship was mishandled.

Convener of Pak-Iran Friendship Group in Senate Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum (retd) said there should be efforts for developing direct air link between Islamabad and Tehran and bilateral trade even if through barter to avoid sanctions.

Qayyum said Pakistan would never support aggression against Iran or its diplomatic isolation and economic strangulation.

Director General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and former foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that it is incomprehensible that Pakistan and Iran have not fully exploited the potential of their economic cooperation and trade.

He believed that border security issues should have been resolved long ago. These issues, he suggested, can be effectively addressed through security and intelligence coordination.

"There is no option for the two countries but to improve their bilateral cooperation and coordination," he emphasised. To avert the US sanctions on key projects such the IP gas pipeline project, he said that the two sides can trade in the local currencies.

Former foreign minister and President Pakistan Council on China Inamul Haque called for exploring ways through which bilateral trade can be enhanced with Iran despite the US sanctions, besides regularising illegal trade.

He also questioned fencing of the borders with the neighbours including Afghanistan and Iran.

Executive Director IPI, Sajjad Bokhari said it is a matter of record when it comes to concerns about external interference in Balochistan, Iranian authorities have always shown readiness to discuss it at the very highest level.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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