The fate of longstanding conflict over Iran’s nuclear dossier, the duplicitous stance of the West towards the Israel’s atomic program, the prospect of Iran – EU relations and the role of Iran in the world’s political equations are the topics which the international community is immensely interested in knowing and reading about.
Josef Havlas is the ambassador of the Czech Republic in the Islamic Republic of Iran. During his diplomatic career, he served as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to Japan (1995-2000) and Ireland (2003-2008), as well as Deputy Director of the Dept. for External Economic Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2000-2003). He has been chairing the Czech embassy in Tehran since January 2009.
The following is the full text of Daily News Corner’s exclusive interview with Mr. Josef Havlas in which the mutual relations between Iran and Czech and a number of other relevant issues have been discussed.
Dear Mr. Ambassador; currently, the Tehran – Prague trade value stands at $50 million. Having in mind the possibilities of expanding the commercial ties between the two countries, what’s your estimation of the prospect of Iran – Czech trade ties? Iran exports to the Czech Republic foodstuff, herbal drugs, construction stones and carpets valuing $15 million a year. What are the future programs for the improvement of bilateral transactions?
In fact, the figures of mutual trade are even higher than you suggest, 100 million USD in 2009. The figures have been rising consistently in the past years. The future is very promising; Czech industries have a long-standing tradition and a good reputation in Iran for their engineering quality and business reliability.
Does the Czech Republic support the UNSC-imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program? Does your representative country believe that Iran should be punished for its nuclear program?
The UNSC sanctions do not aim to punish Iran’s ambitions for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, despite the Iranian leadership’s continuous efforts to present them in this way. The root of the problem, as EU and other diplomats have for years tirelessly pointed out, lies in Iran’s history of extensive concealment of its nuclear activities, which was first discovered in 2002. This was in direct contravention of NPT rules and gave rise to serious concerns about Iran’s possible military aims. To address these concerns, the international community has demanded Iran to accept a temporary suspension of uranium-enriching activities, which are the main source of military proliferation risks. Such a suspension would not, even for its limited duration, deprive Iran of access to nuclear energy, and the international community has made very clear that it is ready to cooperate with Iran on facilitating such access.
Recent findings by the International Agency for Atomic Energy have done little to restore the international community’s trust in Iran as a fully transparent, trustworthy partner. Iran has continued to deny the Agency full cooperation on resolving certain evidence which gives rise to suspicion of possible military dimensions to its nuclear program. Further examples are its failure to give timely notice of the construction of a new enrichment installation in Fordow, as demanded by its legal commitments to the IAEA, or to give sufficient advance notice of its intention to enrich uranium to a 20% level so that appropriate safeguards measures could be put in place by the Agency before the start of this operation.
Despite Iran’s inadequate nuclear cooperation, the international community remains ready to negotiate for a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the issue. I believe this to be both necessary and achievable.
So, will your country support a set of independent sanctions against Iran by the European Union? It’s been on the news that France and Germany are proposing a new set of sanctions against Iran aside from the resolution United Nations Security Council adopted last week. Will Czech join this wave of new sanctions?
A necessary condition for solving any problem is to sit and hold negotiations. Currently, progress is urgently being sought in the mutual de-freezing of assets between the EU and Iran. Letters have been already exchanged in this regard by high-ranking representatives of both sides. With the correct attitude, we hope to achieve important progress in the visible future.
According to the statistics proved by the Federation of American Scientists, Israel possesses something around 200 nuclear warheads. Being non-signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, two other countries in the Southern Asia region, India and Pakistan, possess nuclear weapons as well. Why doesn’t the European Union take any action against these countries to propel them towards disarmament? Why is Iran being singled out over its nuclear program?
Yes, this is a fair and serious point. It is certainly the wish and long-term aim of the European Union for the NPT to gain universal acceptance. However, this aim will not be helped by the failure of standing NPT members to uphold their responsibilities. In this regard, it is not quite accurate to say that Iran is being singled out. North Korea, which has renounced its NPT responsibilities, has also been subject to international sanctions.
You have mentioned the case of Israel, whose military nuclear program is the target of much criticism on the part of Iran’s leadership. The European Union actively supports the view that a stable and peaceful Middle East should be nuclear-free. However, this effort must go hand in hand with a just and realistic settlement of Israel’s relations with all countries in the region as well as with the Palestinian population. Therefore, efforts to include Israel in a regional nuclear-free project will not probably be aided by official declarations containing direct or implied threats against the country. This is something that we should bear in mind.
What’s your stance over the recent mass killing of peace activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla who were heading from Turkey towards the besieged Gaza strip? How do you estimate the international community’s reaction to the incident?
The European Union has joined the international community’s position that the multiple killings on board the ships are an extremely serious incident which must be thoroughly investigated. The accounts of both parties to the incident are divergent, nevertheless it is clear that even based on the Israeli version, the Israeli military’s actions must be viewed as not only professionally irresponsible, but also utterly unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view.
Let’s get back to Iran – Czech affairs. How do you estimate the cultural relations between the two countries? The national libraries of Iran and Czech signed a memorandum of understanding last year. What are the joint cultural projects between the two countries? Do you have any special program underway?
A free and spontaneous cultural exchange between our countries would be a great source of pleasure and enrichment to all of us. Iranian artists, especially in the fields of cinema and drama, are well appraised and regularly welcomed at important cultural events in our country. The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Iran is continuously seeking new opportunities to present Czech artists in Iran, and believes that its cooperation with Iranian authorities in this regard could and should be developed much further. It is regrettable that the two countries have not yet signed a memorandum of understanding to aid development of cultural relations in general.
Above all, we believe that cultural exchange between the two nations should be free from official restraints and should not need official support to develop. The people themselves know well where to seek cultural value on the other side, without direction from authorities.
What are the main agenda of the Embassy these days? Do you have plans to stage exhibitions or other programs to foster the Iran – Czech relations?
One example of our efforts is the planned visit of the President of the Czech National Library to Tehran. Unfortunately, due to existing administrative restrictions there are also lost opportunities.
This spring, the embassy of one of the European Union member states in Tehran has hosted a successful European Film Week, which also featured a contemporary Czech film. The EU countries would wish a much more extensive presence in Iran’s cultural environment, especially beyond embassy grounds. In the future, we hope to play a successful role in bringing European culture closer to the Iranian public, especially in the areas of music, cinema, theatre, painting and plastic art, philosophy and literature. Iran has a talented, educated population with a great appetite for exploring foreign cultures.
As the last question, Mr. Ambassador, how’s the state of tourism relations between the two countries? How many Czech citizens do visit Iran each year? What about the number of Iranian citizens who go to your country for tourism purposes?
As with tourists from other Western nations, the number of Czech tourists traveling to Iran is far below its potential. We hope that the future development of the international political environment, as well as Iran’s tourism infrastructure, will allow Czech tourists to fully profit from Iran’s great historical and natural assets, as well as allow Iran to draw the considerable economic benefits that tourism offers.
Like all Western countries, especially those within the Schengen immigration system, the Czech Republic is confronted with the problem of illegal migration, as borne out by annual statistics. However, within these constraints, the Czech Republic extends visas to hundreds of Iranian visitors every year. It is our hope that the general conditions will gradually improve for an increase of the number of Iranian tourists to our country.