Exclusive Radio Romania interview with Foreign Minister Lazăr Comănescu recorded in Iran

Reporter (Carmen Gavrilă) : Mr Minister, you are a great follower of economic diplomacy. What does this concept mean within the framework of your visit to Iran?

Lazăr Comănescu: First of all, good evening to you and to all Radio Romania listeners. I am delighted to meet you again and talk about a component of Romania’s foreign policy that should acquire further significance and I would like to start by saying I am glad to have a strong support from both President Iohannis and Prime Minister Dacian Cioloş towards this approach; because, you see, the economic aspect is now prevailing in foreign policy all over the world. Each and every country is seeking to promote the best economic relations with other states by political channels or by classical foreign policy.

Our interest, the objectives of Romania’s current Cabinet are part of this broader context and our foreign policy priorities aim to revive the economic dimension, the economic diplomacy, my visit here being closely related to this subject. I was received by the Iranian President, Mr Rohani and I had extensive talks with my Iranian counterpart, focusing on a relaunch of our economic relations, all the more us having a tradition in these relations and, on the other hand, due to the huge potential on both sides; I was glad to notice the Iranian part manifested a particular interest in this respect.

Before meeting the high officials, I attended a business forum and I would like to mention here that I am accompanied during this visit by a significant group of 50 representatives of the Romanian business community, which is a first, if you like. So we attended this forum and met with our Iranian counterparts. The participation was really impressive, more than 100 companies and we tried to present Romania’s main priorities and fundamental guidlines for economic growth; we obviously insisted upon those sectors with particular potential for the bilateral co-operation.

Rep: Does Iran welcome Romanian businesses and in what sectors?

Lazăr Comănescu: Suprisingly, most surprisingly I should say, the sheer number of participants to this forum showed us the extent of interest and attention manifested by the Iranians towards resuming economical relations with Romania and this interest has also been strongly stressed out by both President Rohani and the Foreign Minister Zarif. Given our experience in the past, but also taking into account developments that emerged ever since, we identified several economic sectors with huge potential. Of course, first we are talking about the energy sector, oil and gas field exploitation, machinery industry. Maybe you know, I am sure you know that Iran produces Renault cars under license and most of the parts come from Romania. Here is just an example.

There is also a high potential regarding agriculture and the food industry, water resource management; the opportunities Romania can offer to Iran as a gateway to Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, but also to EU as a whole are most important, in my opinion, and this has also been emphasized by my partners today. Regarding this, I have discussed with my Iranian counterpart about opportunities deriving from creating and building a transport infrastructure meant to connect Iran to Romania via Azerbaidjan, Georgia and the Black Sea and further on by the Danube to Western Europe, benefiting Iranian companies which want to sell their products in the West. These are just a few examples. I would also mention the IT sector which also holds great potential.

Beyond this general framework, I would like to point out that direct contacts have already been or are being established in each particular sector by Romanian NGOs and businessmen with their Iranian partners. During this visit, which is a great start desirable by both sides, we have also agreed to resume the works of the Mixed Romanian-Iranian Economic Cooperation Commission this year. I have confirmed our interest in this regard to my Iranian partners, because it is somehow our turn to host this commission.

After these contacts today, I have discussed with the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania, Mr Mihai Daraban, who is otherwise a member of the official delegation, that we should meet again as soon as we get back to Bucharest and establish follow-up measures for each sector and company involved.

Rep: There is currently a wave of foreign economic delegations coming to Iran. What makes us Romanians more competitive? What would determine Iranians to choose us and in what sectors?

Lazăr Comănescu: Romania and Iran have a tradition of intense cooperation and this friendship between the two countries is deep-rooted, as we could notice here in Iran; there is an interest that also implies a cultural component, why not a sentimental component of true respect and mutual appreciation. These are factors that play a certain part and contribute to create an environment meant to boost economic relations. But there is more. I have already talked about the geographical position of the two countries which can be capitalized and turned into an advantage for both sides. Iran’s regional role is obvious and not hard to prove as well as Romania’s position in Central and South-Eastern Europe by its Black Sea opening; all of these create opportunities, they are advantages that both sides are interested in capitalizing.

Rep: There are many Iranian doctors here who studied in Romania. Do you consider including Iran and Iranian students in the scholarship programme offered by the Romanian state?

Lazăr Comănescu: I am glad you touched this subject as I wouldn’t like to create the impression that we only favor economic cooperation – which is surely essential to our relations – but I also discussed with Prsident Rohani and FM Zarif about our mutual interest in several other domains. One of them is precisely this, the academic sector, cultural exchanges; I have informed my partners of our willingness to develop academic programs between universities in Romania and Iran. We have also agreed to develop our cooperation in what think-tanks are concerned. Another potential that we identified and widely discussed is what we call human contacts and tourism can play a great part in this regard. There is, as you can see, a plethora of domains that we can capitalize and it is our duty to make efforts in this respect.

Rep: Have you established with your counterpart a way to maintain communication regarding regional crisis, with a focus on Syria, but also ways to counteract Daesh? Daesh is considered by Iranians a direct enemy.

Lazăr Comănescu: Indeed, we have talked about economic relations, bilateral relations, but at the same time we reviewed the regional background and exchanged substantial views about stability and security in the regions each one belongs to. Let us not forget that in Europe as well, in our eastern vicinity, the ongoing situation is raising worries. And I am particularly considering the situation in Ukraine. We are dealing and Iran is directly dealing in his vicinity with the Syrian crisis which includes the terrorist threat of Daesh. We have agreed to intensify our efforts in the international community to fight this scourge and to eliminate the growing risk of tension in the region. As I have stated before, the situation in Syria was obviously generated by internal factors, but at the same time we cannot ignore the existence of regional actors who unfortunately have diverging approaches, who are driven by rivalries and competition. Or, to find a solution other than a military one in Syria, which cannot be a military but only a political one, all actors in the region need to reach a common ground, no matter their specific interests – so to speak, in order to solve the Syrian crisis on a political level, because, as you can see, this crisis reverberates and presents particular risks. I am talking about migration, which cannot be properly managed unless we tackle problems at their roots; from this perspective, I reiterate the role of regional actors, of the countries in the proximity of the crisis, but also of those beyond.

Rep: Have you discussed with minister Zarif about this migration wave Europe is facing, given for example the fact that part of the Afghan migrants cross Iran to reach Europe through Turkey?

Lazăr Comănescu: Yes, of course we touched this topic as well and this is precisely what I want to point out: if we wish for a long standing solution to the migration phenomenon, we need to go at the roots, to identify its fundamental trigger; in Syria’s case, there is an absolute need to end hostilities, as I said before. Surely, recent developments should be welcomed and we are hoping for this ceasefire to last, so that a proper environment for political negotiations and solutions be created. From this perspective, I reiterate the role of regional actors and, of course, Iran can play a significant part; this was one of the messages I sent both as Romanian but also as an EU foreign minister. As I have told my Iranian counterpart, my visit comes with an additional, favorable connotation, being the first dignitary, the first high official of an EU member state coming to Tehran right after the elections in Iran; the atmosphere of this visit has confirmed once again, as I told you at the beginning, the existence of a particular interest in boosting cooperation with Romania and a similar interest in consolidating cooperation between Iran and the EU.

Traducerea: Bianca Ioniţă