Kourosh Ziabari – Tehran Times: Janko Veber, the president of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, visited Iran in early May 2014, in the first trip by a European parliament speaker to Iran in more than a decade.
Veber had travelled to Iran at the invitation of his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani and was one of many high-ranking EU officials who came to Iran following the election of Hassan Rouhani as the President of Iran in June 2013.
Like the majority of the EU officials who travelled to Iran recently, including 9 foreign ministers of the 28-member bloc, Mr. Veber voiced his optimism about the further expansion of ties between Iran and the international community and the diplomatic settlement of dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Tehran Times had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Mr. Janko Veber upon his return to Slovenia.
“My recent visit to Iran pleasantly reassured me of a broad spectrum of possibilities for Slovenia and Iran to further enhance bilateral economic cooperation,” he told Tehran Times, “Iran currently ranks third among Slovenia’s economic partners in the broader Middle East and therefore represents an important economic link to the region. Our business community is well aware of Iran’s potential and is getting ready for the time when circumstances in the international community enable them to fully engage with their Iranian partners.”
The Slovenian Parliament Speaker, who was accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen and traders, believes that the partial removal of the anti-Iran sanctions following the conclusion of the Geneva interim accord, known as the Joint Plan of Action, paves the way for the expansion of Iran’s trade relations with the European nations, and that his country welcomes the prospect of enhanced economic exchanges with Iran.
According to Mr. Janko Veber, Iran is currently Slovenia’s third major trade partner in the Middle East, but there’s ample room for the bolstering of economic and financial transactions between the two countries.
Alluding to the history of peaceful and friendly relations between the two countries in which no outstanding issue exists, Mr. Veber hopes that the Slovenian Embassy can be reopened in Tehran in the near future.
In an exclusive interview with Tehran Times, Janko Veber talked about the achievements of his recent Iran visit, the future of Iran-Slovenia and Iran-EU relations and the current political situation in Slovenia. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Mr. President; your recent trip to Iran was the first visit by a European parliament speaker to the country in more than a decade. Would you please explain about the importance of your trip and the plans you and the Iranian officials have presented for bolstering and expanding the bilateral ties between the two countries?
A: I am most pleased and grateful for having had the possibility to respond to the invitation by the Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly Dr. Larijani. I consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be one of the region’s most important countries as well as a valuable partner and counterpart also at the global level.
Parliamentary contacts at the highest level offer an important opportunity to develop relations and share experience. Slovenia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are friendly countries, with no outstanding issues, and have great potential to enhance bilateral cooperation, particularly in the field of economy. My Iranian counterparts were outstanding and we could feel that Iran welcomed us with open hands, which we consider a great honour, indeed. The talks were open and productive both as regards the possibility of strengthening economic and political cooperation between Slovenia and Iran and as regards the course of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. We also discussed the possible reopening of the Slovenian Embassy in Tehran, which could, to my opinion, strongly contribute to an even better cooperation between our countries which regretfully slowed down in the past years.
Q: What countries are the major trade and business partners of Slovenia in the Middle East region? Do you believe that Iran can turn into a major trading partner of Slovenia? How much importance do you attach to relations with Iran?
A: My recent visit to Iran pleasantly reassured me of a broad spectrum of possibilities for Slovenia and Iran to further enhance bilateral economic cooperation. Iran currently ranks third among Slovenia’s economic partners in the broader Middle East and therefore represents an important economic link to the region. Our business community is well aware of Iran’s potential and is getting ready for the time when circumstances in the international community enable them to fully engage with their Iranian partners.
Q: A 30-strong delegation of Slovenian businessmen and traders accompanied you in your landmark visit to Iran. What agreements were concluded between the Slovenian businessmen and their Iranian counterparts? Do you think that Slovenia and Iran can expand and strengthen their economic relations in the near future, especially given the gradual removal of the sanctions imposed against Iran in the course of negotiations with the six world powers?
A: Yes, I was accompanied by a rather strong delegation of traders, which confirms the expressed interest in strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries and points to the possibilities to establish a new dynamics in the economic relations between Slovenia and Iran. However, during the economic delegation’s visit to Iran, the talks between traders took place separately from the talks at political level, so no concrete information regarding the possible agreements can be provided yet. I would nevertheless wish to stress that the economic delegation’s visit was above all exploratory, intended to search for possibilities to strengthen economic cooperation and identify areas of common interest, with due account of the current state of affairs in the relations within the international community.
Partial removal of the sanctions against Iran is a good sign that opens certain possibilities for the enhancement of bilateral economic relations between Slovenia and Iran in the designated areas. However, the full-scope cooperation will become possible only when the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is reached and the sanctions are lifted in full. I sincerely hope that this time comes soon.
Q: Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany are negotiating for reaching a comprehensive solution over Tehran’s nuclear standoff. Are you optimistic that the talks will bear fruit and lead to a complete resolution of the nuclear issue? What can be the benefits of a possible final deal between the two sides for the world?
A: I believe it is in the best interest of the E3/EU+3 and Iran to achieve the agreement that will on one hand fully address the concerns of the international community over Iranian nuclear program, and on the other enable Iran to fully re-engage with its global partners. This would represent a win-win solution. All other options, particularly the prolongation of the existing standoff, would be much less favorable for both sides.
Q: As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran argues that it has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful and civilian purposes. At the same time, it has accepted to alleviate the concerns of the international community over its nuclear activities through taking voluntary confidence-building measures. Do you admit that Iran has such a right like all the countries that are developing nuclear energy for producing electricity or other non-military uses?
A: The right to a peaceful use of nuclear energy applies to all countries, and Iran is no exception in this regard. But it is also the international community’s right to know whether particular country’s nuclear activities include a dimension that could be perceived as a threat to regional and global peace and security. Again, Iran is no exception in this regard. What the already volatile region needs right now is peace, stability, and prosperity for its people. And Iran has an important potential and a role to play in this regard.
Q: How much are you familiar with the Iranian culture and history? You may know that Iran is home to one of the oldest civilizations on the earth and the birthplace of the Persian Empire. Why don’t the people in the West know too much about the cultural roots and the ancient history of Iran? Don’t you agree with me that this unawareness is what has created many of the problems and misunderstandings that exist between Iran and the West in whole?
A: I believe that in Slovenia we are quite aware of the World’s history, and its ethnic, social and cultural diversity. We highly value the rich Iranian arts, culture and heritage. However, I fully agree that the lack of awareness of each other’s cultural backgrounds may lead to misperceptions and misunderstandings. This is a global problem that needs to be properly addressed. And the best way to do so is through the enhancement of cultural, academic and other types of people-to-people exchanges between particular countries and regions, as well as globally.
Q: Let’s get to some Slovenian questions. What have been the causes of the current political crisis in Slovenia? Why did Ms. Alenka Bratusek resign as the Prime Minister? Ms. Bratusek said that she would not continue to remain in power since she lost her party election to Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic, saying that she cannot work as long as she doesn’t enjoy the support of her party. What’s your take on that?
A: This is unfortunately true. I think that Ms. Bratusek resigned from the office of Prime Minister because of the divergence within the party. The situation in which she assumed office in 2013 was very challenging and I agree with her saying that in order to take decisions she needs full support of her party which was, until then, also the largest coalition party.
Q: I read that Slovenia was severely affected by the Eurozone debt crisis in 2008 and that the increase in the ratio of non-performing to total loans rose from 13.2% to 17.4% between the middle of 2012 and 2013, which is the highest level in the Eurozone after Greece and Ireland. Do you think that a bailout plan can help address Slovenia’s economic woes or that you need austerity measures? It was also noted in some reports that the process of privatization in Slovenia takes place very slowly. How can these problems be eliminated?
A: Here, I should point out three things: first, Slovenia has already proven that it is able to solve its financial issues by itself, whereby I keep questioning the reality and bona fide nature of the ratings assigned to Slovenia by international credit rating agencies, which directly affected our financial status. Second, I think that in the past years we have not witnessed savings but rather an unscrupulous neoliberal approach and excessive compression that eventually achieved an effect contrary to the one we wished to achieve. After all, this was admitted also by the European Commission. And third, I am favourable to privatization, yet not at any cost or under any conditions, and above all not without a previously adopted capital assets management strategy.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the results of the recent European Parliament 2014 elections? It’s reported that the majority of seats are taken by the Eurosceptic, conservative politicians and that the leftists have conceded a shocking defeat. What’s your analysis of the results, and the fact that the voter turnout was reported to be slightly above 25%, which is a very small number for the integrated Europe?
A: To my opinion, the low voter turnout is due to the fact that the citizens still feel that the European Union does not affect them directly and thus perceive it as something remote. Some parties were able to take advantage thereof, while others still make analyses. Despite some announcements of withdrawal from the Union, the EU remains unified while its institutions are becoming increasingly aware that they need to include and consider in their activities and procedures also the national bodies.
Q: And finally, how do you see the future of Slovenia in the light of President Borut Pahor’s insistence that he would not propose a Prime Minister-designate and the calls for early elections? Do you think that peace and stability will return to Slovenia soon?
A: A few days ago, the early parliamentary elections that will take place on 13 July 2014 became a fact. The Constitutional Court in effect decided that the constitutional deadlines – after the procedures to find a Prime Minister-designate had been completed – could not be interpreted in any other way nor could they be, for example, extended to have the elections in autumn. Our system indeed strives for the stability of institutions; therefore, special procedures are in place both for changing the government and for dissolving the Parliament. After the Prime Minister had announced her resignation, the President of the Republic Borut Pahor held, as provided by the Constitution, talks with all the leaders of deputy groups. Based thereon, the President established that no candidate would receive sufficient support by the National Assembly. Likewise, no candidate had been proposed by a deputy group or a group of 10 deputies, which is another possibility provided by the law. The President of the Republic thus decided not to propose any candidate, which resulted in the dissolution of the Parliament and in the calling of early parliamentary elections. As you can see, our system differs from the Iranian system where, as I have been told and found very interesting, no one has the right to dissolve the Parliament. Of course, the differences in the system derive from different historical backgrounds of the two countries. The current state of affairs brought some instability in the Slovenian political environment, but such should be overcome with the new elections. I believe that in the present situation, when we record economic growth, which is the most powerful measure to tackle the consequences of the economic and financial crisis, it is of utmost importance to have as soon as possible a stable government with full powers which will be able to further pursue the effectively planned economic projects of the hitherto government. The current political developments in our country thus need to be understood mainly in the context of preserving a stable system and a stable State. Postponing the election deadlines would certainly not make a positive contribution thereto.
This interview was originally published by the Tehran Times daily.