“The presidents of Serbia and Iran are committed to developing bilateral ties,” Says Serbian Ambassador to Iran.

 “The presidents of Serbia and Iran are committed to developing bilateral ties,” Says Serbian Ambassador to Iran.

Dr. Dragan Todorovic is one of the few Serbia’s diplomats who masters Farsi and Arabic languages. He has spent two diplomatic missions in Libya; the first time from 1998 to 2002 and once again from 2009 to 2014. In the interval between these two missions, he was sent to Damascus from 2004 to 2007. Back then, the Serbian embassy in Syria also covered Jordan and Lebanon due to the lack of an embassy. In another step, he was sent to Saudi Arabia to open the Serbian embassy in that country. Eventually, in 2017, Mr.  Todorovic was appointed as the ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to Iran.

In an exclusive interview with AVA Diplomatic he has answered questions about the last status of the tension between Kosovo and Serbia, the effects of the war between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the fields of cooperation in all areas between his country and Iran.

AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with

Dr. Dragan Todorovic, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to Iran

Following the intensification of tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, NATO forces patrolling over the northern parts of Kosovo have increased. Is there a probability of an imminent conflict between the two sides?

The situation for our people in Kosovo and Metohija is very complicated and complex. This has been going on for decades, and many people do not even want to hear about the real problems that our people are facing. We have never been in a more complex and complicated situation. The Pristina regime made a decision to impose on the people in the north of Kosovo and Metohija things that they have no right to impose. They sent their units with 21 tons of fuel to the administrative crossings in advance, with the desire to stop all those who have Serbian identity cards. The atmosphere was brought to a fever pitch, and the Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities. President Vučić’s appeal to everyone was to try to preserve peace at almost any cost. He asked the Albanians to come to their senses, the Serbs not to fall for provocations, but he also asked the representatives of powerful and large countries, which recognized the so-called independence of Kosovo, to pay attention to international law and reality on the ground and not to allow their wards to cause conflict. Serbia does not want conflicts and does not want war. Our president said – “we will pray for peace and seek peace, but there will be no surrender and Serbia will win!”

Serbia legally considers Kosovo an inseparable part of its territory and accuses Kosovo of violating the rights of the Serbs inhabit that region. Does Serbia have a specific plan to support the Serbs inside Kosovo?

Yes, Serbia has a plan and Serbia is implementing the plan. Our President Mr. Aleksandar Vučić stated that publicly, once again during the recent talks in Brussels where he requested to open a discussion on the Association of Serbian Municipalities. He also called on NATO to do its job and stop the incursions of special Pristina units in the north of Kosovo and Metohija, and to start implementing the agreement they signed. Also, he insisted on the full implementation of the Security Council Resolution 1244. The base of the plan is to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija and not to allow to the Pristina regime to threaten the interests of our people in Kosovo and Metohija. We will not allow that people of Kosovo and Metohija have the fate of our people from Krajina.

Serbia is one of the few European countries that disregard EU and US sanctions imposed on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine. Has not this approach led to an escalation of tension between Serbia and European states and the US?

Serbia expresses sincere regret for the situation in Ukraine and emphasizes that it is committed to respecting the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and in this sense respects the territorial interest of Ukraine. Regarding sanctions, Serbia believes that they do not represent a solution to any problem. In principle, Serbia is against the use of sanctions as a mechanism in international relations, and when making decisions about such measures, it is guided by its own national interests. The Russian Federation is our very important partner in many areas and supports our national interests, especially in terms of support for territorial integrity and sovereignty in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Russia is an especially important partner in the field of energy and Serbia in this period of energy and economic crisis must take into account its national interests. Pressures exist but as I said, Serbia has its national interests.

During recent years, Serbia has sought to join the European Union. However, It has been a while that it has moved away from the path of the EU and moved towards Russia and China. Will Serbia keep on this way?

Yes, Serbia is dedicated to joining the European Union. This is our priority. But at the same time, Serbia has very good relations with Russia, China, the United States, our neighbors and our old friends from the Non-Alignment Movement.

With regard to the extensive economic ties between Serbia and Russia, how has the Russia-Ukraine war affected the relations between Moscow and Belgrade? What position has the Serbian government taken on this war?

We believe that it is necessary to create conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid and support efforts to stop the conflict. Serbia is ready to provide all kinds of humanitarian aid to the vulnerable population of Ukraine, and the Serbian Orthodox Church also supports it. Serbia participated in the International Donor Conference in Warsaw on May 5, and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, Mrs. Ana Brnabić, participated in the conference for Ukraine via video link. On that occasion, Serbia gave a donation of three million euros to help children, as well as displaced persons inside and outside Ukraine. I have already stated the position of Serbia towards the war in Ukraine and why cooperation with Russia is important for Serbia. Of course, all this has a certain affect on Serbia, but Serbia strives to minimize the negative impact of this war in every respect.

In recent years, what changes have we witnessed in the relations between Iran and Serbia? Do the two countries have an accurate understanding of the existing capacities in each other’s countries in order to develop their relations?

Today we can say that our two countries have the best bilateral relations in history. We do not have any open problem, our presidents talked twice by phone, our ministers of Foreign Affairs, also talked by phone, and they had one meeting in New York last year. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Nikola Selakovic visited Iran. Our former President of Parliament Mr. Ivica Dacic was in Iran last year as a special representative of our President during the inauguration ceremony of Dr. Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On both sides, our presidents are very dedicated to our bilateral relations and it is the most important. Our duties are only to realize their dedication and determination. So, now we are working to improve our economic relations that do not follow the level of the political relations. Until the end of this year, we will have the new session of the Joint Economic Committee that will be held in Tehran. We expect big progress after that session. During this year, we mark the 85th Anniversary of the Diplomatic Relations between our friendly countries and just to conclude – we are very satisfied with the level of our bilateral political relations, and we are working on all other levels together with our friends in Iran and our friends from the Iranian Embassy in Belgrade, especially my personal friend Ambassador Mr. Rashid Hassanpour who is working very hard.     

Serbia is one of the biggest suppliers of frozen fruits to the European Union. Is there any scope for cooperation with Iran in the field of providing and packaging agricultural products?

Yes, there is. Until the end of this year, we expect to have here our frozen fruits in the Iranian market.

What is the status of banking relations between Iran and Serbia?

This is a very difficult problem. We are on the path for solving it in order to enable a normal flow of money.

How has the volume of the trade between the two countries been estimated for the running year? And what was the volume of trade between the two countries last year?

During this period, the volume of trade is slightly more than 50 million dollars. This is more than the last year, but it is not enough because we have much bigger potential. Immediately after two years of the Covid pandemic, we started in Belgrade and here to bring our companies to Iran and send the Iranian companies to Serbia. The last delegation was headed by Mr. Ali Reza Peymanpak, President of the Organization for Trade Promotion of Iran and Deputy Minister of Industry, Mining and Trade. The delegation had about 20 members and they had several very good meetings with the Serbian ministries, including our Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Nikola Selakovic. We decided to improve our economic relations and trade volume as soon as possible.

Given that you have visited most of the provinces of Iran, in what fields can the two countries have joint economic cooperation?

During my visits to the Iranian provinces, I realized that we have big opportunities for economic cooperation. The most important is cooperation in the field of Agriculture. We have a lot of agricultural products, which are needed in Iran, for example seeds and seedlings, which thrive very well on the local soil in Iran. Further, many of our agricultural products could be accepted in the Iranian market – like corn, sunflower, and wheat in general. On the other hand, many Iranian products are highly appreciated in Serbia – pistachios and other nuts, raisins, dates and all dried fruit. We already have in our market many of these products, but during the last period, we found in Iran some other products that we need – agricultural fertilizers, for example. So, I mentioned here only Agriculture because this is the most important field that we have to exploit in our economic relations. Because of that, my visits to many Iranian provinces were very useful.

How is the status of Persian language education in Serbia? How many students are Persian language learners and in what universities are they studying?

The Persian language is very popular in Serbia. Today our students learn it at the University of Belgrad, Faculty of Philology. We have about 100 students who learn the Persian language. Also, the Iranian Cultural Center in Belgrade organizes courses of the Persian Language. When I was a student, we did not have Persian language at the University and I learned it in the Iranian Cultural Center. People in Serbia love Persian Language, Iranian Literature and Culture. We have about 1000 common words in our two languages. Delegation of the Belgrade University during the visit talked also about courses of the Persian Language for our students here in Iran.

Is visa cancellation between the two countries possible again?

At the moment we cannot say about the possibility, but in our history until now we had visa cancellation twice. Once immediately after the Revolution in Iran when our country was only one of four countries where Iranian citizens could travel without visa, and the second time four years ago. Now we are trying to make some kinds of visa facilities for some groups of travelers. If we can do it, it will be a great step.

In the past few months, an MOU has been signed between the University of Tehran and the University of Belgrade. In what areas will the cooperation between the two universities be conducted?

Yes you are right. We in Serbia have Iranian students who are studying in some Serbian universities, and also we have Iranian students who get scholarships every year. Last year we gave 18 student scholarships for Iranian students. They study completely free of charge. The visit of the delegation of the University of Belgrade headed by the President of the University Professor Dr. Vladan Djokic was aimed at expanding cooperation between the two countries in the field of education. Both sides want to exchange professors, students, to organize courses, common events and of course to attract students to Serbia and to Iran. In the next period, we will try to concretize this kind of cooperation.

Considering that Serbia has championship titles in many sports, how do you see the horizon of expanding sports interactions between the two countries?

Sport is one of the best fields for cooperation and for strengthening the entire spectrum of bilateral relations. Just now during these days, a big group of Iranian competitors in wrestling will go to Serbia in order to participate in a big international competition. In this sport we signed two years ago one MoR and Iran already helped us because Iran is on the world`s top country in this sport. We also have cooperation in some other sports like volleyball, our coach was the Iranian national coach and now we can say that the Iranian national team is one of the best in the world. We also cooperate in waterpolo, athletics, trying to find the common interests in various sports. We want to make cooperation in football, basketball, handball, but also in tennis and table tennis. We have ready MoR for cooperation between two Ministries of sport and also some other documents in several sports. They will be signed as soon as possible. It is impossible to see the end of the horizon of expanding sports interactions between the two countries, it is endless. 


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