The bilateral relations and the potential for joint economic projects between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Islamic Republic of Iran were the main topics of discussion between the two countries’ top diplomats Ekaterina Zaharieva and Mohammad Javad Zarif. Minister Zarif was on an official visit to this country.
‘Last year marked an important anniversary: 120 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. The cultural ties between our peoples, however, date from many centuries earlier. There are over 500 words of Persian origin in the Bulgarian language,’ said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva at the joint press conference she gave with her Iranian counterpart.
The two ministers discussed opportunities for increasing the trade exchange between their countries, promoting contacts between the private sectors, the increase of tourism exchange, and possibilities in the energy sector. In the second half of this year, Sofia will host another session of the Joint Economic Commission. There is potential for strengthening ties in the tourism sector. ‘The year 2017 saw further growth in the number of Iranian tourists [visiting Bulgaria], with 28,000 trips having been made to Bulgaria for leisure purposes; the establishment of a Bulgarian-Iranian working group in that sphere has already been agreed,’ said also the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister. Zaharieva and Zarif also agreed to work for creating a Joint Commission in the area of tourism.
The Iranian Foreign Minister arrived in Bulgaria with 31 representatives of the private sector included in his delegation. ‘In the course of last year, four visits of business delegations have been exchanged between the two countries. This comes as evidence that there is interest on the part of the business community as well as on our part, as government representatives, in supporting and facilitating contacts in this area,’ Zaharieva added. She went on to underscore that in this respect it was of paramount importance to realize the project of the Persian Gulf-Black Sea Multi-Modal Transport Corridor that is slated to link Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Black Sea, Bulgaria and Greece. The top Bulgarian diplomat pointed out that in 2017, within a year after the historic visit of Prime Minister Borissov to Tehran, the trade exchange between the two countries had grown substantially, reaching 110 million US dollars.
The two top diplomats also discussed counter-terrorism and the situation in the Middle East. ‘Our common goal is the fight against ISIS, but also against terrorism as a whole. Terrorism is a global problem. The truth is that suicide terrorist attacks actually kill more Muslims than they do Christians. This is a phenomenon that we are all bound to address,’ said Zaharieva, and Zarif concurred with the words, ‘Terrorism is not about religion. We must fight the culture that imposes divisions between peoples.’
The two ministers were unanimous in the opinion that a solution to the conflicts in the Middle East must be found by diplomatic means. ‘All parties must seek possibilities for easing tensions there, in a number of countries, and in Syria and Yemen, at the negotiating table,’ said Bulgaria’s top diplomat. ‘We believe that the only way to find a solution to the conflict in Syria is through negotiations within the framework of the Geneva Process under the auspices of the UN,’ she added. Ekaterina Zaharieva underscored the importance of Resolution 2401 of the UN Security Council, demanding the imposition of a 30-day armistice in Syria and the securing of humanitarian access, and genuinely putting an end to violence, especially against the country’s civilian population. ‘The start of the diplomatic process is important as a precondition for the process of restoration in Syria,’ said Minister Zaharieva.
‘Bulgaria and the other EU Member States have a clear position on the Nuclear Agreement, which remains unchanged,’ commented Ekaterina Zaharieva. She went on to describe the signing of that agreement as a positive diplomatic accomplishment and underscored that it must be adhered to by all parties concerned. ‘The fact that issues like Iran’s ballistic missile program remain open does not mean that we need to change the existing agreement or start anew,’ the Bulgarian Minister added. ‘Talks about the ballistic program must begin.’
‘Iran expresses enormous respect for Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, whom we consider to be our friend,’ commented Minister Zarif in response to a journalist’s question as to why the plane of the Bulgarian Prime Minister had not been diverted from Iranian airspace en route to Riyadh. ‘This was a technical issue and I am happy that on the return trip the Mr. Borissov’s plane overflew Iran,’ he added.