Since last year, Iran and Slovakia have been taking effective steps in extending economic and political ties; a trend realized following the mutual visits of officials from governmental and private sectors. The continuation of such path shall certainly lead to bright horizons and that is why the Slovak Ambassador seeks to make the most of the existing opportunities for enhancing relations between Tehran and Bratislava more than ever.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Ľubomír Golian, Slovakia’s Ambassador to Iran
You are currently serving as Slovakia’s ambassador to Iran and accredited for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Considering your diplomatic background in Europe, what parameter do you point out as the most effective in your appointment?
Our diplomatic service has not many diplomats. Slovakia is a country of five million people and we many times, from practical reasons, prefer so-called universal diplomats to the specialists. As I have remembered we have only one Farsi speaking Ambassador and he is posted in Uzbekistan now. Maybe the working experiences and results have played some role in answering your question. Posted in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and as Ambassador in Denmark I gained a lot of new experiences, best practices and wider outlook. I am working in diplomatic service more than 30-years. My generation witnessed and actively participated in the transition of my country to capitalism and democratic society, the end of the Cold war, the peaceful division of the former Czechoslovakia, the establishment of the new independent country – Slovakia – and in the creation of its new diplomatic service. Maybe our experience from the transition of the Slovak state-owned economy to the free market economy (the process of privatization) or restructuring of our banking system (we spent on it more than 10 % of our GDP, without any foreign add) would be of some interest in your country too.
Given your experiences, I should say it was expected for you to be appointed to ambassadorship in a European country instead of Iran and in your lieu, a diplomat with a command of Farsi in the region be sent to Iran. What factors does the Slovak Diplomatic Service take into account for appointing ambassadors?
As I have stressed we have small diplomatic service and all the diplomats and ambassadors are very flexible. As a result we have ambassadors with global, not only regional or one state working experience. On the other hand my predecessor Ambassador J. Bory, the Arabic-speaking diplomat, all his professional life was posted in the region of the Middle East. I am the specialist for Balkans. That is why I was first in Bulgaria. Practically in my country, it is not very typical for a diplomat to be posted to one country two or three times. Our diplomatic service is mainly based on principles of professionalism, regular evaluation of the work results and flexibility. Knowledge of the relevant languages is also very welcomed.
As Slovakia’s ambassador to Tehran, what are your priorities?
From bilateral point of view my crucial priority is to use this historical momentum of the post sanctions period for developing our economic relations. The second one is to continue in our intensive political and expert dialogue at all levels. The development of the cultural, educational and tourism relations have also a great potential to be used. From the European point view, Slovakia as acting President of the Council of the European Union has focused on the boosting relations between the EU and Iran including opening of the EU Delegation in Tehran and Iranian delegation in Brussels. As the most perspective fields of collaboration has been identified: atomic energy, economy, trade, environment, immigration, regional cooperation and human rights. The EU is ready to diversify and secure the supply of natural gas and oil to Europe by using Iran’s enormous resources.
In your meeting with Mr. Rouhani, what were his main concerns regarding Slovakia-Iran ties?
We discussed the question how to developed unclosed potential of our economic relations after implementation of JCPOA and how to use the coming Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union to accelerate the EÚ – Iranian cooperation. I informed your President also about the Slovak priorities as a president country and stressed the importance of the opening of the EU delegation in Tehran for faster facilitation of our cooperation in many different areas, be it politics, trade and banking, migration or many others.
Was there anything particular about opening the EU office in Tehran in Mr. Rouhani’s words?
It was not a special point. I am only mentioned it as an important tool in promoting Slovak priorities of our coming presidency. Mr. Rouhani pointed out an Iranian interest to develop economic relations with the European Union and stressed huge potential of Iran economy and its high absorption capacity of the Iranian market concerning foreign investment. As I have known this process (opening of the EU delegation in Tehran) has practically started after historical visit of the HR/VP F. Mogherini and 7 commissioners in April this year.
Why is the team responsible for reopening the EU office in Tehran resident in the Embassy of the Netherlands instead of the Embassy of Slovakia?
The liaison team was located in the Dutch embassy and started the preparation work of the opening of the EU delegation during the Dutch presidency. The Dutch Embassy was prepared logistically to organize many meetings and visits in the period of rapid intensification of the EU–Iran relations. I think that based on the above mention conditions the decision in Brussels was adopted not to change the local presidency. But we are divided our responsibility and the Slovak Embassy is managing Schengen, consular and security meetings. The last but not least we have to relocate our embassy in September this year (at the beginning of our presidency) to the new address.
What ups and downs have there been in the cultural and scientific relations between Iran and Slovakia over the past few years?
In recent years we have managed to prepare some exciting events. My predecessors organized several concerts of Slovak famous musicians and exhibitions and Slovak as well as Iranian painters with connections to Slovakia. The most interesting was the exhibition of Safvet beg Basagic Collection of Islamic manuscript from the University Library in Bratislava, which is really a very valuable collection.
At the Comenius University in Bratislava there is an Iranian teacher of Persian culture and language. Also at the Tehran University we have young scientist from Slovakia studying your language and maybe in the future he will be capable to organize some Iranian or Persian Studies Courses in Bratislava.
Now we are ready to increase the level of mutual cooperation in culture. I hope, that new MoU of the cultural cooperation will be signed early during the visit of our minister of culture in Iran.
I am also very happy that the Iranian students are interested in studying medicine and dentistry in Bratislava and we have very good relations, plans and cooperation with Azad University.
What position does Iran own in Slovakia’s foreign policy?
Iran has played important role because of its: a) geographical location – capacity to be a transport hub between very important world markets, b) natural resources – capacity to be a new source of gas and oil to Europe and c) as a regional power – capacity to stabilize this very restless region.
From a bilateral economic point of view Iran is a new market of 80 million people and new opportunities for our companies to do business. It is a very rare case that from year to year it is possible to find a new market for exporting of our production.
Taking into account above mentioned conditions we have decided to rebuild our Embassy in Tehran to the Slovak Embassy of regional importance. We have doubled our personal staff by adopting a new economic diplomat and establishing the Office of the Defence Attache. Now we are ready to realize our foreign policy and economic priorities not only to Iran but also to Pakistan and Afghanistan. I am convinced that establishment of a permanent diplomatic representation of Iran in Slovakia will be the next qualitative step towards in improvement of the Slovak – Iran bilateral relations.
What has changed in the political relations of the two countries after the JCPOA?
Principally we were preparing for these new times gradually through the visits of our Prime Minister in 2013 and our foreign minister in 2014 respectively. The main changes can be seen in activation of our mutual economic cooperation. Just a day after so called Implementation day two crucial economic treaties was signed in Tehran by our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. During the visit of our Minister of Economy the MoU of the establishment of Joint Economic Committee was signed. We have witnessed many business forums organized by our chambers of commerce and direct contacts and cooperation between our companies. We have started political consultation also on the level of deputy foreign ministers (M. Takhtravanchi in Bratislava) and your Vice President responsible for nuclear energy Mr. Salehi visited also Bratislava. During the last visit of Dr. Zarif in Bratislava the MoU of political consultation was signed and another business forum took place. Next year we will be concentrated on the preparation of the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister Mr. P. Pellegriny, responsible for investments and the visit of your First Vice President Mr. Jahangiri to Bratislava respectively.
To sum up, the political dialog has been restored at all levels, the basic economic treaties have been signed and cooperation has started on high speed and now we are concentrating also on the educational, cultural and tourist exchange. In one word, we witness the historically best level of relations between our countries, the highest frequency of bilateral contacts since the independent Slovakia was established.
Iran’s FM, Dr. Zarif has on his trip to Slovakia met and consulted with the country’s President. What did the most important discussions cover between the two officials?
They discussed a wide range of issues. First of all the stance and perspective of our bilateral relations and positive impact of the JCPOA on the EU – Iran cooperation. My president was interested in your regional positions and experiences. The politicians focused also on the importance of the economic relation, improving of the banking system and cooperation and usefulness of the human rights dialog. The opportunities of cooperation in oil and gas were also touched.
During Dr. Zarif’s visit to Slovakia, a bilateral economic meeting was held. What did those economic perspectives define for both countries?
I think more than 30 businessmen accompanied your foreign minister and according to my information a business forum held in Bratislava under this occasion has opened some new perspectives of our economic cooperation in such kind of branches as machinery, automotive, electronic, waste and water management and renewable resources. Some new contracts were discussed. During the meeting of Dr. Zarif with the Slovakian businessmen, the problem of banking sector was stated. Now we have to solve banking connections, transaction questions, insurance problems etc. but politically I think two sides match on business affairs.
Has the cooperation between Slovakian and Iranian banks initiated?
Our bank delegation headed by the Governor of the Slovak National Bank hold the negotiations with Iranian partners at the beginning of March this year. The experts from our banking sector were part of the delegation of our Minister of Economy. In these days there is a delegation of the Slovak EXIM bank (export-import bank) in Iran which includes representatives of the other Slovak companies. According to my information also the Slovak insurance companies are interested in doing business in your country
I think, that banking problem will be solved but it will require much more time than we expected. Only foreign banks are operating in Slovakia mainly from Austria, Belgium and Italy and therefore the Slovak “daughters” must sometimes wait for the decision of mother´s banks.
In a meeting with Dr. Zarif, Slovakia’s Foreign Minister reminded that activities will increase in the Economic Section of the Embassy of Slovakia in Tehran. Is there a specific plan for that?
In the response to the rapid development of economic relations between our two countries we have decided to reopen the economic section at our Embassy (it was closed in 2009). The main task of the new diplomat responsible for economic collaborations will be to help Slovak companies to develop contacts, promote their exports, the establishment of joint ventures and to gain Iranian investments. It is very important because in our world we have so many information that sometimes it is very difficult to get the proper one. He has to do the same activities also in connection to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The formation of a chamber of commerce between the two countries shall significantly affect the level of economic and commercial cooperation between Tehran and Bratislava. How far have the formation and operation processes of this financial institution gone?
The Iranian –Slovak Business Chamber is a civic association established in Bratislava (2011) with the aim to promote trade relations between our two countries. The Chamber has organized the seminars, conferences and lectures to boost cooperation between Slovak and Iranian businessmen. Special attention is paid to the Iranian companies which want to start their business in Slovakia. From this year this association is also focused on the Slovak companies that are keen on developing business in your country. This year another similar organization the Czech – Slovak – Iranian Chamber of Commerce has started such kind of activities at the Iranian market. Our Embassy is actively cooperating also with the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Iranian Chamber of Commerce, and provincial chambers of commerce.
An official bill for boosting economic collaboration between the Iran and Slovakia was confirmed in an open session at Iran’s Parliament on November 15, 2016. How would that affect both countries’ economic ties?
The investment protection agreement was signed on January 17, 2016 by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Slovak Republic Mr. Kažimír and your Minister of Economy and Finance Mr. A. Tayebnia. It is one of too basic economic agreements necessary for our businessmen and companies to gain main guaranties to do business in our countries. Next year the mutual cooperation on investment will be discussed by our Politicians. The main task is to sign business agreements and open doors for development of concrete business relations.
The economic cooperation of Iran with other countries relies on the full implementation of the JCPOA. Can the election of Donald Trump as the new US President gradually weaken the JCPOA?
JCPOA is an international and not bilateral agreement between Iran and US. Sometimes a pre-election rhetoric may be different from practical politics. The new administration will bring also some changes in the American foreign policy. But traditionally the Republicans are more realistic, more business – like orientated politicians and business is not in a very friendly relation with the sanction policy.
The importance of the question relies on the fact that the bilateral economic relations between two countries in dependent on the JCPOA implementation.
I think that EU has declared very clearly by the HR /VP F. Mogherini its interest to continue in its post JCPOA policy towards Iran and its satisfaction with the implementation of the JCPOA by Iran. Slovakia, as the acting President of the Council of the European Union is supporting this policy very strongly. Implementation is on a good way and I think now that future of this treaty will depend much more on Iran, than on another country.
Considering that you are also the Accredited Ambassador of Afghanistan and Pakistan, what is your suggestion for reducing violence in this region?
It is really interesting for me now to witness how the relations between Iran and Pakistan and between Iran and Afghanistan are improving. There are very many new contacts both at the political and business levels. The countries have signed the new economic agreements and MoUs. I think that it is one of the answers to your question – international, regional, bilateral cooperation, understanding and exchange of people, ideas and goods. Only such kind of cooperation can stabilize the region, enhance its security and also has a positive impact/example on the neighboring countries and regions.
To decrease violence in the region which is full of unsolved problems, sectarian violence, and where we can see very important intersection of the interest of the regional or global powers it will cost time, money and require efforts from all the interlocutors.
Slovakia as a member of the EU and as acting EU President Country is enforcing the common European position concerning Syria and Iraq. But it is a very complex problem from the implementation of the UNSC resolutions, through fighting terrorist organizations, restoring peace, humanitarian aid and protection of civilians, reconciliation process, migration problem, punishment of the war criminals even to the economy recovery to the building of the new postwar international relations. For example the EU has spent 6, 4 billion euros to address causes and consequences from the beginning of the conflict. The final political solutions in Syria and Iraq must be agreed by internal political actors, without any interference from abroad and must be based on the main principles of international law. For us it is also very important to help the migrants from Europe to come back to their homes and continue their lives.
Is it possible that after the demise of the ISIS, violence and extremism come to life in a new form in the Middle East?
After ISIL being defeated, extremism would like to come back to use some old forms and practices. Maybe it will be more effective to think now how to stop preventively those reverse processes. We need to destroy social, economy and sectarian roots of terrorism and to stop interference from abroad. In practice it is very easy to start violence but very difficult to stop it because violence begets violence and revenge. We have some experience from Balkans wars, which were very surprising for Europe. Slovakia has supported the accession of all the Balkans countries to the EU not only because this organization can guarantee prosperity and democracy but also security of their member states. I think that the European integration has potential to end definitively all this historical problems and violence between the European nations. Unfortunately, we haven’t one common answer for every nation, for every problem, but it doesn´t mean that we resign to find the solutions.
Taking into account that Slovakia is a NATO member, will Donald Trump maintain the strategic role of the US in it?
Slovakia joined NATO in 2004. To my mind the problem which was mentioned by Donald Trump is mainly focused on the reduction of the defense expenditures of the European NATO members as a result of long term economic and financial crisis. Now many countries, including Slovakia, are deciding to increase gradually, step by step their defense expenditures. I think that is not the ultimate problem and NATO will continue. The USA is a leader with global responsibility and to my mind the Americans are not ready to leave Europe definitively.
You believe that NATO shall continue its job. Will Trump’s current attitude not negatively affect the strategic role of the US in it?
I think that we must wait for the new American administration and their foreign policy priorities. The European countries are objectively and strategically the closest allies of the Americans in today´s very unpredictable world. The Europeans countries like Slovakia, with their historical experiences need the NATO security guaranties of the common defense. NATO is the Euro-Atlantic project and we have known that the Americans have also their interests in the others parts of the world. First of all it is a question of resources to be spent to maintain its global tasks. I have believed that with the support of all its members NATO will continue. There will be logically some changes, but for us the security question is of the most importance.