ISLAMABAD           -          Pakistan yesterday showed optimism that Iran will overcome the challenge of sanctions and pledged support to the Muslim-majority neighbour.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is in Iran, told the hosts that Pakistan-Iran relations date back many centuries ago which needs to be maintained and strengthened.

In a meeting with Khorasan Razavi Governor-General in Mashad yesterday, Qureshi noted that Iran had proven to be a resilient country and nation, despite the challenges and difficult conditions it has faced in the past and expressed hope that Iran would leave behind the challenges that it faces.

“We can overcome some of the challenges, including sanctions. We can overcome these obstacles with love, interest, warm relationships and trust between the parties,” he said.

Qureshi said that many Pakistani pilgrims travel to Mashad every year for the pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS), which offers good business opportunities between the two countries.

Earlier in the day, Qureshi stressed the need for collective efforts to save the region from a destructive war.

Foreign Minister Qureshi will fly to Saudi Arabia today (January 13) to discuss the situation with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.

In a statement in Islamabad, Qureshi stressed for “urgent and collective efforts” to address threats to peace and security in the region and resolving issues peacefully.             

The FM said he had been informing the regional counterparts about Pakistan’s stance on the current situation. 

The Foreign Minister said all efforts in normalising “the tense situation and utilising diplomatic resources should be fully supported.”

Amid the tension in the region, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells will also travel to Pakistan from January 19 to January 22 for talks.

US, Wells will also visit Sri Lanka and India before reaching Pakistan. Her Pakistan trip will be a part of her 10-day visit to the region.

Alice Wells, who is a regular visit to Pakistan, will hold meetings with senior government officials to deliberate upon the matters of mutual and regional interests as the whole world is trying to defuse US-Iran tension.

Fears of US-Iran war sparked after the US assassinated Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani in an air strike at Baghdad’s international airport on January 3.

In retaliation, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at the Ain al-Assad airbase in Iraq’s Anbar province and a military facility in Erbil.

Hours later, a Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 bound for Kyiv crashed after takeoff from the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, adding to the tension.

Pakistan has urged for active diplomacy to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan was very clear on its position on the ME situation. “We stand for peace, stability and security in region. I have reiterated this to all stakeholders in my recent conversations,” he tweeted.

The FM added: “Active diplomacy to de-escalate tensions is the need of the hour. Violence must be avoided. We will continue with (peace) efforts.”

US President Donald Trump had ordered an air strike on an Iraqi airport in Baghdad, which killed Soleimani - classified by the Barrack Obama administration as a ‘terrorist.’

The attack came just days after protesters who support Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militia raided on New Year’s Eve the US embassy in Iraq, which has never been breached before.

Several US politicians and pundits have questioned whether the attack was warranted and said they had not seen enough intelligence to warrant the action. Trump said he ordered the killing because Soleimani had ordered attacks on Americans in the Middle East.

Iran has since placed an $80 million bounty on Trump’s head and threatened to attack the White House in response to the President’s warning that any strike on American interests in the region will bring massive retaliation.

An organiser for a funeral procession for General Qassem Soleimani in Mashad had called on all Iranians to donate $1 each “in order to gather an $80 million bounty on President Trump’s head.”  Iran has also announced it they will no longer abide by any of the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal.

This week, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper telephoned Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss the regional situation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also called General Bajwa days earlier. The army chief assured the US secretaries that Pakistan will support all initiatives that help bring about peace in the region.

Prior to his Iran visit, Qureshi held a meeting with Iranian ambassador to Pakistan Syed Muhammad Ali Hussaini and vowed to expand ties and work together for peace in the region.

The two sides agreed that Pakistan and Iran enjoyed historical ties and efforts were being made to enhance the cooperation, said an official statement.

The minister said that he was in touch with various foreign ministers of the region and on the special direction of Prime Minister Imran Khan, he will be visiting Iran and other countries very soon to discuss US-Iran conflict as war was in no one’s interest.