Desmond Tutu is part of Elders delegation in Iran seeking to 'build trust'

(Photo: theelders.org)From left, Ernesto Zedillo, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and Martti Ahtisaari arrive in Tehran, 26 January 2014.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu is part of a delegation with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan  in Teheran at a time when Iran is engaging in a more open relationship with Western countries and the international community.

"We believe that there have been a number of recent positive developments, most important the interim nuclear agreement signed in Geneva last November. These efforts now need to be sustained to achieve final agreement," Annan said at press conference in the Iranian capital on Monday.

The group is known as The Elders and their three-day visit to Iran is their first.

The late South Africa President Nelson Mandela formed The Elders in 2007. It is made up made up of 12 former global leaders whose aim they say is to "promote peace, justice and human rights."

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Like Mandela, Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, earned a Nobel Peace Prize, his being awarded in 1984.

The Elders said on their website, "The purpose of the three-day visit is to encourage and advance the new spirit of openness and dialogue between Iran and the international community, and to explore what could be done to enhance cooperation on regional issues.

"The Elders see the recent positive developments as a historic and strategic opportunity to end decades of animosity between Iran and the international community and to rebuild relations on the basis of trust and mutual respect. They recognise, however, that trust will only be built slowly, through continued goodwill and reciprocal action."

Tutu and Annan are accompanied on their three-day visit by other Elders, former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who is a staunch Lutheran, and Mexican ex-President Ernesto Zedillo, will hold several private meetings with the Iranian leadership, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The first round of talks between Iran and six world powers on a long-term deal for Tehran to curb parts of its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual end to sanctions is expected to take place next month in New York, Reuters news agency quoted Western officials saying on Monday.

HASSAN ROUHANI

Since Hassan Rouhani became Iranian president in August he has taken a stance of rapprochement with the United States compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Last week he became the first Iranian leader in 10 years to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he drew media attention as he stated that his government is seeking "constructive engagement with the world."

Along with Russia Iran is one of the country's strongly backing Syrian the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran could be key is advancing the peace process in the war-torn country where the Geneva 2 talks of last week seem to have wielded little progress.

There was no indication that The Elders would raise the case of U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini, currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran. Details of discussions that The Elders have are not normally publicised.

Some reports said the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had mentioned a possible reduced jail sentence for Abedeni raising hopes something might be in the offing.

"Could Iran be willing to give Pastor Saeed clemency? Could it be willing to release him to return to his wife and two children here in the U.S.?" the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini's wife and two children in the U.S, said in a statement on Monday.

"The Elders will exchange ideas with the Iranian leadership about peaceful ways of addressing conflict and healing sectarian divisions in the region," their statement said.

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