Mohammad Beheshti Monfared: “We see Ukraine as a hub to the markets of Eastern Europe”
Iran's Ambassador to Ukraine on international security and bilateral cooperation
The Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran talked to The Ukrainian Week about how the challenges of separatism and terrorism are viewed in his country, the relations between Muslim groups, and the prospects of economic cooperation with Ukraine.
How do you view the referenda in Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan? Would you compare the two?
— In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful! No country in the world except for one (Israel – Ed.) has recognized the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Preserving any country’s integrity is a very important principle in international politics. The key foreign policy slogan of Iran is the support of territorial integrity of countries. We have identical assessment of the developments in Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia, without double standards in this issue. If the issues of independence for religious or cultural reasons are raised, the number of conflicts will grow rapidly in the world.
Is Iran prepared for a revision of the nuclear deal as insisted by the USA and Donald Trump personally?
— We consider the effective deal to be reasonable, logical and convenient for all parties. It was supported by the UN Security Council. Iran has complied with all the obligations it undertook under the framework of the deal. All 5+1 countries have confirmed this. This is not a bilateral deal with the United States which, by the way, has unfortunately not complied with its obligations. If the American side does not comply with the deal purposefully and Iran receives no guarantees envisaged in this document, Teheran will react accordingly.
What do you mean?
— Insha’Allah, it will not get to that.
The US, Russia and Iran all ascribe to itself a leading role in the fight against terrorism. Where do you see a difference in approaches?
— Iran’s leader Hassan Rouhani called on the parties to reject violence and extremism at the UN General Assembly. Peace and stability are the foundation of development for the entire humanity. Terrorism is the opposite process. Iran is very determined in the struggle against terrorist groups supported by some other countries. Meanwhile, terrorism is unfortunately a large market for weapons, and there are parties who are interested in that. Moreover, the inactivity of the international community has encouraged the spread of terrorism. In
order to uproot terrorism and put an end to it, a real, nonpoliticized approach is necessary.
There is no such thing as good or bad terrorism. It is known whose citizens were the people that attacked the Twin Towers in New York. If we look at all terrorist attacks that have taken place around the world ever since, we will not find a single citizen of Iran amongst the terrorists. Unfortunately, these terrorist organizations are referred to as Islamist while their militants think of themselves as Muslims. But one should not refer to the Wahhabi as Muslims. Islam is a religion of love, friendship, peace and good. Our Prophet preached high moral principles.
How would you explain the growing contradictions between Sunni and Shia Muslims?
— The contradictions between Sunni and Shia Muslims are not greater than the contradictions between, say, Catholics and Orthodox. There is one God and one Quran. The differences that exist cannot be a reason for war. The Shia and Sunni live peacefully in Qatar. The Shia, Sunni, Ashuri and Christians live side by side in Iraq. There no religious contradictions there. Meanwhile, the imperialistic regimes of the West are conducting policies to divide the Muslims, hence the conflicts.
There is a good historic example that explains the essence of these processes. Lord William Gladstone, a British Prime Minister of the time of the empire, invited the nobility to his office, unfolded a huge carpet and placed Quran in the center of it. Who can take this Book without stepping on the carpet, he asked the people. They were confused. Then Lord Gladstone started rolling the carpet and got the Quran in that manner. We must take this Book from the Muslims to own them, he said. So there is a goal: to divide the Muslims so that there is animosity between them. Unfortunately, this colonial politics is still alive.
How close is Iran's cooperation with Turkey and Russia?
— I would like to begin by saying that we build relations with every country individually. Thus, our contacts with Russia, for example, have no impact on our cooperation with Ukraine. Iran’s politics is to have good relations with all countries worldwide, especially its neighbors. Struggle with terrorism is what unites us with Moscow and Ankara, first and foremost. We must coordinate our positions in this issue. Iran’s position on the resolution of the Syrian crisis is known to everyone. We have been one of the few counties that believed from day one that this could only be done through negotiations, primarily between the sides of the conflict in Syria proper.
For various historic reasons, Ukraine and Iran have not begun to integrate into the global economy. What chances do the countries have to win their spot under the sun?
— We have a saying that goes like this: once harm is stopped, whatever happens next is for the benefit. I have quoted our first Imam Ali in a recent interview: “Opportunities are like clouds in the sky, they move and fade quickly.” This means that the opportunities we have now will disappear unless we use them. After sanctions against Iran were lifted, numerous delegations from the West started coming to us and business representatives started making the first contracts. They see opportunities, a ground for further cooperation. It’s the same with Ukraine. There is huge potential and opportunity here; it just needs to be used. We, for instance, have significant interest in Ukraine and are prepared to implement a number of interesting and promising projects. We are most interested in being present in the agricultural sector. The Iranian side is planning to rent a thousand hectares of farmland soon in order to start developing extraterritorial farming here and grow produce for further import. We practice this format in many countries but we have decided that Ukraine will be the main one in this vector.
Another important segment is cooperation in R&D. We count on cooperation from sea shelf to space, the range of interests is quite extensive. Many Ukrainian specialists, including from EnergoAtom, are already working in our country. Aircraft construction is another topic. We have very good prospects here. We see Ukraine as a hub, a point of entry to the markets of Eastern Europe. Take petrochemicals: we first enter the Ukrainian market with an intention to cover the markets of Eastern European countries in the near future. Plus, we created a working group for transport and energy at an intergovernment meeting in March. A project in the field of railway transportation is at the stage of negotiations. We are interested in exporting Iranian medicines to Ukraine with a prospect of going to the markets of Eastern Europe as well. A delegation of representatives from our pharmaceutical industry has arrived to Ukraine. Another delegation has come from Isfahan province to organize the purchase of grains.
What do investors from Iran seek to invest in Ukraine?
— When I came to Ukraine I found out that no Ukrainian-Iranian intergovernment meetings had taken place for 11 years. I have been working in Ukraine for three years now, and the seventh such meeting is about to take place in Teheran. 2016 saw a 30% increase in trade turnover between our countries. In HI 2017, we see another 30% increase. Iranian businessmen have no special requirements for Ukraine. What is needed is laws protecting private property, investment, guarantees and some preferences, customs duty holidays or something like that.
What should Ukrainian diplomats do to make Ukraine more visible for Iran?
— Ukraine’s new ambassador to Iran is quite active. But diplomats are not enough to have full-fledged cooperation. We now have six flights between Kyiv and Teheran. We could well increase that number to fourteen. Tourism is another important vector to be developed. Plus, cooperation in education. The procedure for obtaining a Ukrainian visa has been somewhat simplified for the citizens of Iran, but difficulties remain, so we expect changes in that. We are ready to even discuss visa-free travel regime between our countries. Or we hope at least to simplify visa procedures for two categories of citizens: businessmen and tourists. This is important for the reinforcement of bilateral relations. Hennadiy Zubko has said recently that Iran will be on the list of countries with which Ukraine has a simplified visa regime.
But this promise has not been fulfilled so far. Meanwhile, some tiny countries have received that simplified regime. Even if their entire population comes to Ukraine as tourists, it is incomparable with what Iran can offer. Our peoples have common roots as Pavlo Klimkin has said recently. Meanwhile, the countries that have no deep historic and cultural ties with Ukraine are on the list of those with simplified visa procedures. Iran is not there. Iranian tourists are disciplined, generous and love Ukraine. We do hope to see Ukrainian tourists in our country soon too. We have opened a consulate organized to consider all issues of the applicants within one day.
Mohammad Beheshti Monfared is an Iranian diplomat, a graduate of the University of Teheran. He previously served as Iran's ambassador to Ethiopia and Bangladesh. He was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine and Moldova in 2014.