Over the two year period since H.E. Mr. Hossein Molla Abdollahi, Ambassador of Iran came to Belgrade, we have witnessed many positive developments and progress in bilateral relations between two countries, with a satisfying upward tendency. Exchange of high level visits, such as the visit of Dr. Zarif Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister to Belgrade, the visit of the Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister of Serbia to Tehran; convening 15th Session of the Joint Economic Commission of the two countries in Belgrade; exchange of visits of economic delegations and officials, such as the visit of the Head of Iran Trade Promotion Organisation to Belgrade, mutual visits of businessmen, convening two Business Forums to introduce investment and trade opportunities between the two countries in Belgrade, with participation of the high level state officials and private sector representatives; convening two rounds of consular consultations in Belgrade and Tehran; remarkable number of tourist exchange between the two countries, with almost 45,000 Iranian tourists and businessmen visits to Serbia; establishment of direct flights between the two capitals; visit of H.E. Mr. Vukosavljevic, Serbian Minister of Culture and Information to Iran and his participation at the 31th International Book Fair in Tehran, at which Serbia was a Guest of Honour; having Serbian Film and Music Week in Iran; celebrating the 80th Anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries and publishing a catalogue on selected historical documents about bilateral relations between Tehran and Belgrade…
“These are just part of what has been done in bilateral relations between the two countries over the past two years. One of the most important achievements during this period is increase the level of mutual interactions and visits between Iranian people and Serbian people which created much better mutual understanding and promoted mutual knowledge of our people to each other. This achievement provided a solid ground for expanding and diversifying the areas of cooperation between the Iranian and Serbian people and governments and at the same time crated a very positive friendly atmosphere between Iran and Serbia”, says Mr. Abdollahi.
How were these relations affected by the cancellation of the visa abolishment?
— The Republic of Serbia and the Islamic Republic of Iran agreed to practice Non -Visa Regime between the two countries from September 2017. This mutual agreement was an important step to facilitate exchange of visits of our people and led to increase the level of interactions and communication between Serbian and Iranian people. Furthermore, the establishment of direct flights between Tehran and Belgrade was another essential step towards easier travel of tourists and businessmen of the two countries. These two important steps opened a new and joyful chapter in cooperation between Tehran and Belgrade enabling many important achievements to reach. The decision to abolish non-visa regime made by the Republic of Serbia, as a result of certain pressures, affected the growing trend of tourist and trade cooperation between our two countries. Undoubtedly, neither Iran nor Serbia is satisfied with the unwanted consequences which led to cancelation of direct flights and reduction of touristic cooperation. In order to overcome these unpleasant consequences, relevant officials in Tehran and Belgrade agreed to create a new mechanism in order to facilitate and accelerate the visa issuance procedure in both countries. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran issue visa for Serbian citizens in just few days and for Serbian business people grants multiple visa at least for six months. In order to expedite the visa granting procedure for Iranian citizens, Government of Serbia will increase the number of staff of the embassy in Tehran.
To what extension are the US sanctions against Iran affecting our cooperation and cooperation between Iran and other countries?
— The US sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which were imposed following the unilateral and irregular US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), caused number of problems for economic cooperation and trade between Iran and other countries of the world and consequently created lots of difficulties for daily life of Iranian people. Unfortunately the concern and fear over US punitive actions or fines is the main reason that trade and economic partners ceased or reduced their cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the Serbian government is not supporting unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran but the activities of Serbian economic and business partners are also affected by those concerns.
What are your expectations from the EU in that respect? How likely is that the special purpose vehicle (SPV) proposed by the EU will be operational soon?
— The EU is one of the major traditional trade partner of Iran and also one of the main party in JCPOA. The EU did not accept the unilateral and hegemonic approach of US toward the JCPOA and strongly stands committed to the Nuclear Deal with Iran. On Thursday 31st. January 2019, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in accordance with their resolute commitment and continued efforts to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) endorsed by United Nations Security Council resolution 2231, announced the creation of INSTEX SAS (Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges), a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) aimed at facilitating legitimate trade between European and Iran.
The creation of INSTEX is an overdue first step forward taken by E3 countries and accordingly the E3 underlined their commitment to pursue the further development of INSTEX with interested European countries to make this
instrument in support of trade exchange with Iran. This important step which was taken by E3 will pave the way for resuming economic cooperation and trade exchange with Iran for all countries of the world.
In which areas Serbia and Iran can improve their cooperation in spite of these circumstances?
— It is important to know that the Serbia Government on 14th June 2015, formally supported Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) and like EU does not supporting US unilateral sanctions against Iran. Since Serbia itself experienced heavy economic
sanctions imposed by the US, I believe Serbia as the country with independent approach in foreign policy, and friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, will continue its cooperation in all mutual interested areas with Iran.
We live in a world which is as it seems to us full of conflicts. How would you assess the current situation in your region?
— The current situation in the Middle East is tense and very much complicated. There are several disputing issues and number of crisis and conflicts which caused uncertainty for the future. Foreign interventions beside activities of terrorist and extremist groups severely endangered peace and security in this region. At this time more than ever a proper arrangements through positive and friendly approach is needed to defuse tensions. This could be done through collective sincere efforts and dialogue among all countries of the region. I hope all nations and governments in this region would witness positive developments in their domestic affairs as well as in their foreign relations with their neighbouring countries and with all other countries in the region specifically and in the whole international community in general in the year 2019. Achieving this desired goal, needs great efforts, sacrifices and tolerance of all people and all governments. Accepting religious, geographical, ethnical, cultural and traditional diversities as a normal phenomenon of the creation in the world and as the given gift of the creator, will pave the way for having mutual understanding and peaceful dialogue in order to find the best possible solutions for the current problems and difficulties. People of the region with the great historical background and civilization deserve better style of life and better relations among each other and for sure they are able to achieve it. Establishing a regional security framework among all countries in the region could be a proper mechanism to enhance security and peace and to put an end to the foreign interventions and all ongoing conflicts. Those people who already left their homeland due to security and uncertainty problems deserved to return to their homeland and to start normal life in their country. The worse scenario could be the escalation of current tensions and crisis which may lead to a wider conflicts in this vulnerable region. In this case peace and security of the region will be seriously in risk and then as a result, more people prefer to leave their homeland so that to be away from different kind of dangers and this may lead to a new wave of migration to other regions.
What kind of developments in the region would you expect in 2019 and how these developments will affect some of the global issues such as refuge crisis?
— I would rather prefer to see positive developments not only in the Middle East but also in all regions around the world in the year 2019 to bring an end to all ongoing problems and conflicts. The fact is that the Middle East region is seriously affected by number of old and new challenges from inside and outside. Some of these challenges are global and it cannot be overcome without effective collaboration and serious cooperation by the countries inside and outside the region. The ongoing conflicts has the potential to lead to chaos and bring enormous unpredictable difficulties striking anywhere, any time. These serious problems could not be removed or resolved by one country or another. It needs serious, efficent and constructive collective efforts at national, regional and international levels. It is extremely important to understand that ongoing unilateralism is a serious threat to international peace and security and it is a major source of fragmentation and distrust in the whole international community. In fact, the Middle East is not the only region in the world which is suffering from different type of problems and conflicts, unfortunatly, most of the regions and even the whole international community are facing new challenges and problems due to this fast growing unilateralism. This is a real threat for any country and any region and in general for the whole world.
How would you assess our cultural cooperation and the role of the Serbian-Iranian Friendship Association in that respect?
— The cultural cooperation of the two countries in all fields of mutual interest has an active, positive and satisfying trend. Serbia Minister of Culture and Information, paid an official visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran in May 2018, and as the guest of honour participated at 31st International Book Fair in Tehran. Beside Tehran, he also visited Esfahan and talked with Iranian cultural officials about cultural cooperation in various fields and signed MOU on cooperation between national libraries of the two countries. Furthermore, during his visit, another MOU on cooperation between museums of our countries was agreed to be signed, it is also agreed that dialogue among religions to be held between the two countries. In 2015, Islamic Republic of Iran was the guest of honour of the International Book Fair in Belgrade. The two countries have been continuously taking active participation at the international book fairs organized in our capitals. Based on agreements, and also mutual interest on literature, arts, civilisation and history, of each other, Iran and Serbia are actively involved in translating and publishing books on the said subjects. So far number of books has been translated from Persian to Serbian language and published in Serbia and vice-versa in Iran. Film and music festivals are two other fields of quite interests for both countries. Islamic Republic of Iran organizes film and music festivals every year in Serbia. This year, Iran Film Festival started on 4th February in Belgrade, screening 13 selected films of contemporary Iranian cinematography. These films will be also shown in other cities in Serbia. In 2018, during the visit of the Minister of Culture to Iran, Serbian film and music festival was held in Tehran, Shiraz and Tabriz. Famous Iranian film directors and actors travelled to Serbia and they have been always warmly welcomed by the people in Serbia. Film co-production of cinematography’s of our countries is on the agenda and initial consultation on this cooperation have been already held. In December 2018, the exhibition of Iranian handicrafts and arts was held in the National Assembly of the Republic Serbia. Later, this exhibition was shown at the Charity Bazaar in Belgrade, attracting many enthusiastic visitors. The cooperation on the field of education is also a domain of cultural and scientific cooperation between our countries. Exchange of professors and students, organization of educational tour for students, convening Persian language courses due to the great interest of students and exchange of scholarships are current activities in cultural-scientific cooperation of the two countries. Cultural and social similarities of our countries and great interest for mutual cooperation in the field of science, culture, sports and art have created very positive, active and friendly atmosphere for mutual cooperation between the two countries. The Iranian national team of futsal on 4th and 5th of February 2019 had friendship matches with their Serbian counterparts.
WE SHARE COMMON STAND AGAINST FOREIGN PRESSURE
In which areas our two countries share common thoughts and actions when it comes to multilateral questions?
— There are number of multilateral issues that Iran and Serbia share common thoughts and common stand on them. Opposing unilateralism is one of the area which both countries have a common position on that. Common stand against foreign pressure or foreign intervention in regional and national issues is another common approach and thought of Iran and Serbia. Both Iran and Serbia are following independent foreign policy and they are active members of non – aligned movement. Iran is supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia and implementation of UN Security Council resolution No.1244. Serbia supports the JCPOA and the UN Security Council resolution No.2231.