By Jose C. De Venecia Jr.
Tehran, Iran — As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy for inter-cultural dialogue and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), I made a strong appeal for the two rival leader-nations of Islam, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to lead Islamic Asian and African members in peaceful reconciliation last February 2.
Addressing a special conference in Tehran on the revival of the Chinese-led historic Asian Silk Road initiative, which today traverses Asia and Europe and crosses the Red Sea into Africa, I told the 350-member International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which I founded in Manila in September 2000:
“On the raging Sunni-Shiite issues and the extremist violence in the Arab world with the emergence of ISIS-ISIL in the battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq and even Libya, we cannot discount the magnitude of the barriers that intense doctrinal separation has raised between the two great schools of Islam, and the emergence today of the radical, violent extremists ISIL-ISIL, some of whose splinter groups are moving into Southeast Asia, into Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.”
I noted, however, that ISIS-ISIL is not meeting with success but is being routed in current battlefields.
In ICAPP’s letters to Saudi Arabia’s then King Abdullah and Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I had said: “It would be a great relief to our region and indeed the world, if the two leaders of Islam, Saudi Arabia, representing the Sunnis, and Iran, representing the Shiites, could meet in Mecca and bring about the beginnings of reconciliation and the end of violence in the lands of Islam, and head off decisively the expansion and internationalization of the extremist groups, ISIS-ISIL. We believe the initiative at unification is most difficult but not impossible.”
I recalled the comparable “bloody Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Europe that ran for centuries have long since ended, the more recent achievement being the ‘Good Friday’ peace agreement that ended the brutal politico-religious Catholic-Protestant wars in northern Ireland.”
In the initiatives for peace, the latest heart-warming proposal is that of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for a dialogue in the Middle East, by itself a facet of Iran’s great proposal in recent years for a “Dialogue among Civilizations.”
I recalled an episode when Iran’s late President Hashemi Rafsanjani visited Saudi Arabia in 2010 and enjoyed positive relations with then Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
Rafsanjani had then expressed hopes that Iran and Saudi Arabia would be restored to a close political and inter-religious relationship. I quoted the late Iran president who said that “if the two countries (Iran and Saudi Arabia) are harmonized on regional issues and the Islamic world, seditionists will not be able to induce differences between Muslims.”
I told political party delegates who are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews from Asian political parties and guest political leaders from Europe, Africa, and Latin America to “strive relentlessly to achieve the multicultural understanding which is the only basis for the long-term security of our Asian region and the global community.”
I pointed out recent moves by Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have calmed down the recent tensions in Iran, adding sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy with the fall of crude oil exports from 2.5-million barrels per day to 1.1-million barrels by mid-2013, compounded by the drastic fall in oil prices since 2014, but today Iran’s oil exports have returned to nearly pre-sanction levels. Economic growth has grown, even spreading to non-oil sectors, while Iran has regained access to some $115 billion in new foreign exchange.
As Iran today plays a crucial role in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, major Asian countries continue working with the Iran economy, and Iranian growth has extended to the cities, townships, and villages. Foreign direct investments in Iran under Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani have soared, growing five-fold to $12.2 billion in 2016, with 2017 figures still unreported, and today $12.6 billion in petro-chemicals, methanol and LNG plants are programmed in Iran’s PARS Region for 2018-2019.
The International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which represents some 350 ruling, opposition, and independent parties in 52 countries in Asia, has launched successful cooperative alliances with the various political parties of Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Within two years, ICAPP hopes to complete synergy with the North American political parties in the US and Canada.