Iran Eyeing Closer Ties with Eastern Europe

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Nov 2, 2016
Iran Eyeing Closer Ties with Eastern Europe

The Iranian media reports that Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor will soon visit Tehran to reopen his country’s embassy in the Iranian capital. "Concurrent with the visit, the Republic of Slovenia's embassy will be inaugurated in Tehran and a number of cooperation documents will be signed," Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency quoted Slovenian Deputy Foreign Minister Darja Bavdaz Kure as telling Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting in Tehran on November 3. Zarif reportedly welcomed “the expansion of all-out ties between the two countries,” and the two officials also discussed the need for humanitarian aid to the Syrian and Yemeni people.

Last June, Slovenian and Iranian speakers of parliament had also agreed to strengthen bilateral ties, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a message to his Slovenian counterpart Pahor had called for the expansion of cultural, economic and diplomatic ties.

Slovenia shut down its embassy in Tehran in March 2013 as part of general austerity measures and due to declining trade between the two countries as increasing international sanctions had made it almost impossible to do business with Iran. But since the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions in January 2016, the European Union’s 28-member bloc, including Eastern European countries, have been seeking to bolster ties with Tehran.

The Rouhani government, too, has focused more on improving economic relations with European countries than with the Islamic Republic’s traditional trading partners such as China. On November 7, for example, a high ranking trade delegation headed by Zarif will leave Tehran to visit Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Boosting trade and diplomatic ties with Eastern Europe also carries little political risk for Rouhani as Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards and conservative circles, who are wary of his engagement with the West, are largely uncritical of the government’s efforts to expand ties with Eastern European nations.