Western Countries Flood Tehran

April 29, 2014

            More than two dozen delegations of lawmakers, officials and businesspeople have visited Iran since the interim nuclear agreement was brokered in November 2013. Many Western countries and South Korea are particularly hopeful that Iran and the world’s six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – will find a comprehensive solution to the nuclear dispute. So politicians and investors have traveled to Tehran to begin renewing ties in anticipation of an agreement. In an April 9 interview, President Rouhani said that visits by “hundreds” of entrepreneurs and international companies were a sign of optimism for Iran's economy and relations with other countries. The following is a chronological rundown of delegations that have visited since November 2013.

Nicaragua

      On April 28, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos Lopez (left) arrived in Tehran with a high-ranking delegation to strengthen bilateral relations. Lopez met with President Rouhani on the first day of his trip. “Detailed information about proper grounds in Nicaragua for the presence of private sector and Iranian investors must be offered to them,” said Rouhani. On April 29, Santos met with Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, who pointed out “numerous opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in economic, industrial and agricultural sectors.”

United Kingdom

            On April 27, senior U.K. diplomat Simon Gass visited Tehran to discuss boosting ties and re-opening diplomatic missions. London withdrew its staff in November 2011 after protestors surrounded the Tehran embassy after Britain tightened sanctions.  Gass, the former ambassador to Tehran and the British representative to the P5+1, is the highest ranking diplomat to visit Tehran since 2011.
            Britain’s Foreign Office described the trip as “the next stage in the step-by-step approach to improving relations.” Gass held separate meetings with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for American and European Affairs Majid Takht Ravanchi and with Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Seyed Abbas Araghchi. Araghchi and Gass discussed the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
 

Austria

            Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz arrived in Tehran on April 26 for a two-day visit. He said that Vienna is ready to enhance economic and cultural cooperation with Tehran in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Kurz also expressed hope for the success of nuclear negotiations in a meeting with Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani. 

 

France

            On April 22, a French parliamentary delegation led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Philippe Marini arrived in Tehran for a week-long visit. The Iranian parliament’s Planning and Budget Commission chief, Gholamreza Meshabi Moghaddam, had issued the invitation to his counterparts. The objective of the trip was to assess economic opportunities in Iran and improve bilateral ties, according to Marini.

Latvia

      On April 22, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs (left) arrived in Tehran with a business delegation for a two-day visit. Rinkēvičs became the first high-ranking Latvian to visit the Islamic Republic. He met with President Hassan Rouhani (right), Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati and Minister of Transportation Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi. Rinkēvičs expressed Riga’s eagerness to expand economic and cultural ties with Tehran to Rouhani. The foreign minister also told the president that he hoped for increased E.U.-Iran cooperation after Latvia takes over the rotating E.U. chairmanship next year.
 
Switzerland
            On April 16, a six-member delegation of Swiss lawmakers arrived in Tehran for a four-day visit. The group included Co-chairman of the Iran-Switzerland Parliamentary Friendship Group Jean-François Rime and Swiss Federal Assembly member Luzi Stamm.  "Iran is a big country that plays an influential and undeniable role in the region's future,"  Stamm said in a meeting with Iranian parliamentarians.
 

Azerbaijan

            On April 9, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev met with Iranian President Rouhani to discuss boosting ties between their two countries. Azeri and Iranian ministers signed three memorandums of understanding and one agreement on tourism, cultural exchanges, emergency preparedness and economic development.

 

Belarus

           On March 16, Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit. On the first day, Makei met discussed ways to boost bilateral trade with his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Zarif and Iranian business leaders.

            On March 17, Makei met with President Rouhani, who said Iran is ready to export engineering services to Belarus. Makei also met with former President and Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani , Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani and Minister of Industry and Mines Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh.

Tajikistan

      On March 16 and 17, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov met with President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif and  Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani. Rouhani said the two countries “enjoy great potential to boost the level of political, economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries.” Aslov invited Rouhani to Dushanbe later in 2014.

 

            Zarif told Aslov that Iran is ready to help Tajikistan fight terrorism and that extremism is a danger to both countries. Aslov also congratulated Zarif on Iran’s recent “diplomatic victories” on the nuclear dispute.  "The government of Tajikistan is determined to solve the problems with which the Iranian firms are entangled in our country, and favor commissioning the Iranian companies to implement development projects in Tajikistan,” Aslov told Larijani.

Greece

           On March 15, Greek Vice President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit. He discussed the nuclear negotiations and bilateral trade with President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. Venizelos also met with former President and Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.
           Rouhani described relations between Iran and Greece as “deep-rooted” and “historical” while emphasizing the “vast potential to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.” “Greece will always remain Iran’s gateway to Europe,” the Greek foreign minister added. 
 

European Union

            E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Tehran on March 8, marking the first visit by an E.U. high representative since 2008. The primary aim of the visit was to discuss new opportunities for improving Iran’s relationship with the European Union. Ashton discussed trade, human rights, the Syrian conflict and other pressing issues in her meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Zarif. She also discussed the difficult road ahead to a final nuclear agreement.

            The following are excerpted remarks from Ashton's statement after the visit.

            “The main purpose of the visit was to, as E.U. High Representative, have a chance to talk to Iran about the potential for the relationship that we can have in the future. Many European Union countries’ ministers are coming here. Many have historical links and this was about joining up the whole of the EU in thinking through the issues that we would want to discuss. Not surprisingly there was a big focus on human rights: I met with women activists on International Women’s Day and talked to them about the situation that women find themselves in and some of the work that these women are engaged in, from journalists to those involved with Afghan refugees, people working across the spectrum of civil society and the importance of civil society.
            “And then thinking about some of the issues in the region, for example the real challenges of the drug trade from Afghanistan. Iran faces real difficulties there. There are ways in which we could work together to try and address that. And then looking into the future, the possibilities of all sorts of dialogues and discussions; again an example would be the environment. So that sort of group of different issues, things we may be able to talk about now because they’re important to the European Union to do now, but most importantly things that could be, depending on what happens with the nuclear talks -inevitably that’s been a backdrop to the conversations I’ve had.
            “One of the things that’s been very clear is the support that is given across the political spectrum for the work that is going on currently in Vienna to try and move forward on a comprehensive [nuclear] agreement. That does not mean that we’ll get an agreement; it does not mean that people are committed to any possible outcome at this stage, but I have had a real sense that people are committed to wanting to see the talks happen and that, I think, is encouraging of itself.”
            March 9, 2014 in remarks on her visit

 

Spain
            Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo arrived in Tehran on March 1 for what was supposed to be a four-day visit. But he left after just one day to attend an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers. The ministers will discuss the Ukrainian crisis. “We are concerned about the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Garcia-Margallo said in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. The Spanish official also said that Madrid is keen to expand economic ties with Tehran.
 
Poland
            Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski arrived in Iran with 20 business leaders on February 28. The visit --- the first by a Polish foreign minister in 10 years-- was supposed to last for three days. But he left early due to the standoff in Crimea between the Ukraine and Russia. The following are excerpted remarks by Poland’s ambassador to Tehran, Juliusz Gojlo, on the minister’s visit.
            “The Polish Foreign Minister is especially interested in encouraging both sides, in the year of 540th anniversary of the first diplomatic interactions between Poland and Iran, to develop trade exchange as both nations have done for centuries. To this end, Poland will soon be sending a trade delegation to Iran, headed by our deputy prime minister and comprising of 50 Polish business leaders. The visit will showcase the powerful economic component of Polish-Iranian relations.
            “Mindful of the tradition spanning over 500 years of good relations with Iran, Poland has always tried to serve as a bridge between Iran and the European Union.”
             Feb. 27, 2014 in an interview with the Tehran Times
 
Italy

            On February 22, Chairman of the Italy-Iran Chamber of Commerce Rosario Alessandro arrived in Iran with a business delegation for a four-day visit to explore investment opportunities. The Italian group met with the president of the Iranian Investment Organization and officials at Iran’s Industry, Mines and Trade Ministry.

 
Sweden
            Foreign Minister Carl Bildt traveled to Iran from February 3 to 6, marking the visit by a Swedish foreign minister since 2002. The following are excerpts from Bildt’s blog post written just before he arrived in Tehran.
            “When Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran in June last year, however, a new window of opportunity was opened. His election was driven by expectations of change and reform.
            “And the months since then have seen a dramatic and important diplomatic thaw in relations with Iran. Naturally, the most important aspect has been the interim agreement on the nuclear issue, which has now entered into force and also eases some of the sanctions.
“As I travel to Tehran, it is of course in the hope that it will be possible to continue down this path.”
            Feb. 3, 2014 in a blog post

 

France
            On February 3, a 107-member delegation of French businesspeople arrived in Iran to revive economic ties. The group included executives and investors from energy, telecommunications, automobile and engineering companies. They planned to attend an Iranian-French business conference and meetings with senior leaders, including U.S.-educated economist and President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian.
 
The Elders
            On January 27, the independent group of global leaders called The Elders began a three-day visit to Iran to “encourage and advance the new spirit of openness and dialogue between Iran and the international community.” The delegation, led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, stressed the need to “rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region and further afield.”

 

South Korea
      Kang Chang Hee, the speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly, visited Tehran from January 26 to January 28. He discussed opportunities for expanded trade and Korean investment in Iran’s energy sector with President Rouhani on January 27. “South Korea has been successful in economy virtually without any natural resources. Our technology would help Iran’s mines be developed. Iran has taken significant steps toward Geneva deal and it definitely is of importance in bilateral relations with South Korea,” Chang Hee said in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart.
 
Mexico
            On January 21, the chair of the Mexican Senate’s Foreign Policy Commission, Gabriela Cuevas, signed a memorandum of understanding with her Iranian counterpart for increased parliamentary communication and cooperation. “Mexico is willing to expand its friendly relations with Iran, esspecially in economic, cultural and scientific fields,” she told Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani.
 
Ireland
            An Irish delegation headed by Pat Breen, the chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, visited Iran from January 10 to 14. They met with Foreign Minister Zarif, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi and senior trade officials. Breen told Larijani that President Hassan Rouhani’s election has presented a possibility for Iran to improve relations with the West.
 
Germany
            German parliament member Andreas Schockenhoff from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party visited Iran from January 6 to 10. The deputy head of the Christian Democratic Union met with his counterparts in Tehran. “We not only welcome enhancement of Iran-Germany ties, but we welcome and support [such expansion of relations] with entire Europe; we are not satisfied with the current level of the relations,” he told Secretary of Iran’s Human Rights Council Mohammad Javad Larijani on January 8. The following are excerpted remarks by Schockenhoff to local media.
 
            “The initial [nuclear] agreement in Geneva is the first important step to find a final solution for the Iran nuclear issues and normalizing the relations with the country, however, much should be done to that stage yet.
            “If Iran and Powers work out a comprehensive plan in the set deadline, hopes would be invested on the détente between Germany and Iran, and I would say that Berlin is highly interested in entente with Tehran.”
            Jan. 6, 2014 to Iranian media

 

Italy
            Senator Pier Ferdinando Casini, chairman of parliament’s Foreign Policy Commission also visited Iran in early January. “We favor to see a historical agreement which will be able to guarantee Iranˈs right to produce peaceful nuclear energy and ensure the West of peaceful nature of Iranˈs nuclear program,” the delegation said in a January 5 statement. Besides Tehran, the delegation also visited the central and southern provinces of Isfahan and Fars.
            Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino previously met with Foreign Minister Zarif and other senior leaders in Tehran from December 21 to 22. Bonino’s visit was the first by an Italian foreign minister in nearly 10 years.
 
United Kingdom
            Former Foreign Minister Jack Straw led a four-man delegation to Tehran from January 6 to January 10. The delegates included members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran. They met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, Chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi and others. The visit marked the first visit by U.K. lawmakers in years. The British Embassy in Tehran was closed in late 2011 after hardliner demonstrators stormed the building. The following are excerpts from Jack Straw’s op-ed in The Independent about the trip.
            “For this time, no deal with Iran does not mean Iran will stay isolated, as it did during the Ahmadinejad period. Rather, it will lead to a ragged erosion of sanctions. Russia and China will pull away. Pressure from European exporters will increase – especially from Italy and Germany. (Our Lufthansa flight back from Tehran was full of German business people.) Above all, there would be no guarantees whatsoever about Iran’s future nuclear activities.”

 

European Union
            Eight representatives of the European parliament arrived in Tehran on December 13 for talks with senior Iranian lawmakers and officials. The visit marked the first in six years for the European Union. The following are excerpts from an article on the visit by Tarja Cronberg, chair of parliament’s Iran delegation and a member of its foreign affairs committee.
            “There is no doubt that the people of Iran have very high expectations of the new president and the government, one of the more important observations made by our five member MEP delegation. Even the NGOs state that they can work more freely. There are cracks in the isolation. The momentum has to be seized.
            “It is obvious that President Hassan Rouhani is under great pressure to improve the human rights situation, in accordance with his electoral promises. The conservatives, however, still rule the human rights council and the judiciary. The president has released political prisoners, but executions have increased.”