H.E. Mr. Levan Dzhagaryan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Islamic Republic of Iran, sat down a week ago with IRAS for an interview about Russia’s bilateral and regional cooperation with Iran after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The following is a condensed version of the interview.
What is the status of Iran-Russian Scientific Collaboration?
“One of the points in the agreement on easing visa requirements was to facilitate conditions for students, scientists and the academics of both countries. Accordingly the visits have been increased. Last year, a group of Iranian university presidents were invited to Russia by Moscow State University and an inter-university agreement was signed. It is expected that a delegation of Russian university presidents would make a trip to Iran and reach agreements for a series of student exchange programs this year. I have to point out that Mr. Sorena Sattari
, Iranian Vice-President for Science and Technology, is very active in this field and will soon make a trip to Russia. There are universities in Russia, such as Moscow State Univ., St. Petersburg State Univ., and Kazan Federal Univ. which are very active in this field.”
One of the recommendations for bilateral relations improvement is to supporting the “tourist exchange” program. Have any steps been taken in this field?
“During the recent trip of Head of the Russian Federal Tourism Agency to Iran, there was a conference in the historical hall of Russian embassy on opening a "Visit Russia" office in Iran. The statistics show that around 35000 Iranian tourists visited Russia last year which is really impressive compared to previous years and it is expected that this number will rise in the this year. Thus Iran has been added to the list of the twenty countries which send tourists to Russia. We are trying to make getting a tourist visa easier by for example issuing groups tourism visas. Iranian tourists usually visited Moscow and St. Petersburg but last year a flight to Sochi was made for the first time. We will use this experience in the current year. Russia has many sites to see; for example the mainly Muslim dominated Republic of Tatarstan and also Dagestan which have much in common with East Azerbaijan Province in Iran. There are Russian tourists coming to Iran as well but currently their numbers are few. However, with poor relations with Turkey, Iran can become a tourist destination for the Russians.”
President Putin said last November that Moscow is ready to provide a $5 billion state loan to Tehran to promote industrial cooperation. What is the purpose of the loan and is it granting to Iran yet?
“This loan has been allocated to several projects. We will no longer talk about this matter using the dollar standard. Around €2.2 billion are going to be used for two projects. Another one billion is for the construction of thermal power plants in Hormozgan Province and €1.2 billion are dedicated to the electrification of Garmsar-Incheh Borun railway project. The contract for the thermal power plants has been signed but the negotiations for the electrification projects still under negotiation. Two weeks ago, Director General of Russian Railways met with the Iranian official and it was agreed upon that the experts continue their talks about this matter. This is only the first step. If these projects are implemented successfully decisions for the second part of the loan will also be made. However, you have to consider the fact that Russia is granting this loan while it is under economic pressure from the unilateral US sanctions and the reduced oil prices.”
Given the oil price slump, one proposed field of bilateral cooperation is on energy industry. Has any negotiation been done on collaborating Russia in Iran’s oil and gas projects, namely Iran’s gas export to East Asia or upgrading Iranian oil and gas industry?
“Russia has no role in Iran's gas pipeline (Peace Pipeline) to East Asia project. As far as I know, Iran has fulfilled its obligations extending the pipeline to Pakistani border and now its Pakistan's turn to meet their end of the bargain. The project has been delayed and I don’t know whether it is due to lack of proper funding or other issues. As for the bilateral oil and gas cooperation, Russian Energy Minister has visited Iran several times meeting with Iranian Energy Minister and has introduced the Russian oil and gas companies' capacities to Iran. Russian oil and gas company officials, namely those of Gazprom and Rosneft, have recently visited Iran and negotiated with the Iranian officials.”
Iran-Russian regional cooperation is under way and at the same time, Russia is negotiating with the U.S. on the Middle East affairs. In your perspective, what kind of agreement Russia and the U.S could reach on the Syrian Crisis?
“Russia has close coordination with the U.S. on the Syria Crisis and since Mr. Obama's term of office is nearing its end, the US government will try to come up with political solution to solve the crisis in Syria. We are trying to differentiate between the moderate opposition groups and radical extremist groups such as Al-Nusra Front. If we compare the current US stance towards this issue with its past stances, we will notice how milder it has become. The US believes that Iran and Russia must influence the Syrian government so that the agreement can be reached while they themselves will put pressure on Syrian opposition. We believe that the recent talks in Vienna signal better conditions for continuing the talks between the parties involved in Syria. But I have to emphasize that first of all the US has to force the Turkish government to shut its Syrian borders so that no more supplies or men could enter Syria. The second condition for solving the Syrian crisis is that Kurds must be present in all stages of negotiations. They are part of Syria and therefore have a right in deciding Syria's fate.”
“We respect Syria's territorial integrity and believe that Syria must remain united. Also, Bashar Al-Assad must stay in power until the next presidential election. The election must be transparent, fair, and according to the constitution and the president must be selected merely by the Syrian people’s votes.”
Iran-Russian cooperation on Syria gave rise to change the field and move the other side to negotiating table. Right now, some skeptics argue that there is no more firmly bilateral cooperation. Is that correct to you?
“Generally speaking, Iran and Russia cooperate nicely in Syria. There might be some misunderstandings in some cases but both Iran and Russia have suffered casualties in Syria. However this does not mean that we must complain. Our positions are really close and we must not allow foreigners create misunderstandings between the two nations. We will grab any opportunity for negotiations on different levels. Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s Syria Special Envoy, has visited Iran on discussing the Syrian Crisis several times.”