Abdollah Norouzi: Bulgarian Delegation to Visit Iran in September
September will be a very active month between Iran and Bulgaria, H.E. Abdollah Norouzi, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has told Novinite in an interview.
Mr Norouzi has been Tehran's Ambassador to Sofia since March 05, 2013. Over the 32 years of his career within the Iranian Foreign Ministry, he has held a number of key offices within the institution, heading the Directorates General for Training and Development of Staff (2006-2010) and the Directorate General for Planning, Programs and Human Resources (2010-2012) before coming to Bulgaria. In 1997-2001, he was Iran's Ambassador to Sweden and accredited Ambassador to Lithuania and Iceland.
He holds a doctorate in Political Science and his Master's degree is in International Relations.
Weeks after a group of six countries struck with Iran a deal over its much disputed nuclear program, Novinite met him to find out whether Bulgaria is already using the occasion of sanctions being lifted to give the two countries' 117-year-old ties a new lease of life.
Your Excellency, European politicians seem to be queuing up to visit Iran after the historic agreement was reached. Last month you said that authorities in Sofia had heard "to some extent" your call for boosting economic contacts. Has Bulgaria become more active since then and in what sense?
In the name of God, we are beginning the conversation and I would first like to thank you for the opportunity you are granting for an interview. I hope that as a result of such contacts the two peoples will get to know each other even more.
If back then I said [Bulgarian authorities] heard my calls, then I can point out that they heard my calls very well - both with regard to political issues and the exchange of delegations and to incitement of on economic issues. We are moving forward quite well.
In other words, should we expect a visit by a Bulgarian delegation to Iran?
Is it clear when?
It is. September will be a very active month between the two states.
Looking at Bulgarian trade statistics, one can notice that in the January-May 2015 period exports to Iran tripled and imports from Iran nearly doubled compared to the same time last year. What can explain this?
If you mean the increase in the volume of trade, then the reason is the incitement of exchange between the two countries. The task of the two foreign ministries and their ambassadors is precisely to incite these relations.
It was impressive because it happened before the deal was made. And then, what products does Iran export to Bulgaria and what does it import from here?
We couldn't speak about a concrete product, but if we want to point out the area where the exchange is most intensive, it is chemical products.
In which areas do you see the biggest potential for cooperation after the sanctions are lifted?
Given the historical ties and contacts we had in the past, the biggest opportunities and potential are in the field of oil and natural gas. Both your country and mine, however, have a wide range of products which lead to the development of these relations - and as you see, gas and oil play no role the increase of volumes.
What is the view of Iranian investors on Bulgaria? Beyond oil and gas, in what fields would they hold the biggest interest?
In two main areas Iran has already begun the conversation and we have had certain progress. One is about products from our refineries, the other is in the field of transport - we are talking about transport by air, sea and land.
Tourism in Bulgaria is much affected by sanctions against Russia. Have there been any talks between Bulgaria and Iran on joint tourist projects?
Yes, there have been talks - but not in the sense of filling the vacuum created by the Russian side, but within our traditions and based on the fact that Bulgaria is one of the traditional destinations for our tourists.
A few years ago reports emerged of an Iranian oil refinery project in Varna [the northern Black Sea coast of Bulgaria]. Is this project still on the agenda now that the sanctions are being revoked?
Yes, we are still following the issue and have carried out different conversations with this regard. It need not take place in Varna or the vicinity. We are discussing different locations in Bulgaria where there is a base for this.
Speaking of energy, a few months ago you confirmed for Novinite reports that Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov met with you to discuss a revival of the Nabucco gas pipeline project. Don't you share the opinion that once the Trans-Adriatic pipeline is built, it would make Nabucco redundant, since the routes largely overlap? Or you believe the project still can and must be carried out?
The Trans-Adriatic pipeline that you mentioned is different to Nabucco. Nabucco is a pipe that is more profitable and has a huge capacity.
In other words, Iran is still hoping this project might become reality?
For the Europeans [sic] - yes.
Europeans are also pinning their hopes on a revival in energy cooperation. A few days ago Iranian officials voiced skepticism about whether it is a good idea for Iran to export gas to Europe, given the strong export orientation to the region and to Eastern Asia and the technicalities that would make this activity gainful. Is it premature for Europe to hope that Iran can help it boost its energy security?
They didn't say that exports to Europe are not gainful. They said our priorities are directed to the region and Eastern Asia. Besides we traditionally look to Europe. So if conditions on behalf of Europe are prepared, we will turn to Europe.
What image do Iranians have of Bulgaria? What do they know about it?
Iranians certainly know about Bulgaria more than Bulgarians about Iran. And the reason is that for 20 years now we have had between 10 and 15 000 tourists traveling [from Iran] to Bulgaria. This number of tourists bring back much information about Bulgaria to Iran. You can compare for yourself how big the flow of information is the other way. Because on a yearly basis we don't even have 1000 tourists to travel from Bulgaria to Iran. Maybe this is something for the media to do - to fill in the vacuum.
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What about Bg-Azerbaijan relations?
Don't let, I repeat, do not let Ro or/and Turkey build a pipeline from Azerbaijan without it passing through Bg territory: for instance, instead of the oil/gas pipeline starting from Azerbaijan to make "landfall" in Romanian Black Sea shore-/coastline (= in Northern Dobruja), Bg. should do anything it can to draw the Azeri pipeline unto its territory.