Feb 26, 2024, 1:21 PM
Journalist ID: 956
News ID: 85398206
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'Sanctions made Iran-Hungary economic ties challenging but not impossible'

Tehran, IRNA – Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Peter Szijjarto has reiterated that his country and Iran have continued their relations in recent years despite the fact that the US sanctions created challenges for bilateral ties between the two countries.

"The pretty extended framework of sanctions against Iran makes it really challenging to build effective economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. But challenging does not mean impossible," Szijjarto said in an exclusive interview with IRNA. 

Szijjarto said that governments of Hungary and Iran have introduced efforts to offset the impacts of sanctions on ties between the two countries.

He said that Hungary can be viewed as a trade gateway to Europe for Iran since the country is a member of the European Union and a member of EU’s Schengen economic zone.

The full text of the interview is as follows:

Thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister, for being with us.

You have traveled to Tehran to participate in the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation between Iran and Hungary.

Question: Not long ago, Iran's foreign minister said that this summit and meeting had great potential for expanding cooperation between the two countries. Can you elaborate on how these meetings can help the economic cooperation between the two countries?­

Answer: Look, we Hungarians, given our size, given the structure of our economy, given our location, we are absolutely in favor of a free and fair global trade without obstacles. Now, this is not the case. The pretty extended framework of sanctions against Iran makes it really challenging to build effective economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. But challenging does not mean impossible, in this case since the trade is not free and not without obstacles, the governments themselves, have a bigger role than usual when it comes to building up the cooperation. So, in our case, the Joint Economic Committee is of vital significance because, through this committee, we can coordinate the partnerships to be found among companies which are active in the non-sanctioned areas.

And luckily enough, those areas which are non-sanctioned are absolutely the top industries in Hungary when it comes to technology.

So therefore, I was accompanied by a number of Hungarian leaders of the Commission, including the pharmaceutical sector, agriculture, food industry, water management, medical industry, and plastic industry. And I'm pretty sure that with our coordination, with a flexible approach of both sides, these companies can find partners in the countries of each other and we will be able to increase and enhance the economic cooperation between the two countries on a business-to-business basis.

Q:  You mentioned the issue of water. This is very important for Iran, as you know. In which areas of water do you think that Hungarian companies can help Iran?

A: Look, if we pose the question, in which industry are the Hungarian companies in possession of highly developed technologies, then it is clearly water management. We have a long, long tradition in that. Decades-long. Hungary is a country of waters, rivers, and lakes. And we had to develop really advanced technologies in order not to lose water, to use water in a proper way. And I do believe that it is a fundamental human right that one has access to safe and clear drinking water. Now, in order to purify the water, in order to make it clear and safe to drink, there are technologies. And Hungarian companies are in possession of these technologies. No wonder that in many countries of the world, starting from Africa, through Southeast Asia to the Western Balkans, many countries are taking advantage of Hungarian technologies. And Hungarian water purification equipment has already been applied and used here in Iran, for containers already. And there are three other projects going on now in the framework of which the same Hungarian water management company should be able to deliver the water purification facility.

Q:  What mechanisms exist to ensure the implementation of this summit, that we make sure that these come to practice, and what obstacles are in the way?

A: Well, first of all, the legal guarantee has now been there, that our agreement on mutual protection of investments has entered into force. And this gives legal certainty to the companies to work together and to be present in the other country. On the other hand, we have made an agreement today that our customs and tax offices will carry out tighter cooperation than so far, in order to ease those processes which are necessary to be approved from the perspective of the presence of our companies in the countries of each other and on top of that, today we have signed an agreement about cooperation on the field of agriculture. So that will allow the Hungarian companies to bring their highly developed technologies to Iran, through which food security and food safety can be ensured. And we have made an agreement as well that we have this session convened once every year. And in case there is a necessity, then on the expert level, sessions can take place even more often.

Q: If I remember correctly, you have said before that there are going to be given 100 scholarships to Iranian students. Why is Hungary giving scholarships? do you have a number of Iranian students in Hungary?

A: You know, we have been granting this scholarship to Iranian students for more than 10 years now. And we have a good experience with that because the program is very popular here in Iran, which is approved by the year-by-year high number of requests submitted. For this semester, there were 500 Iranian students requesting the chance to get a Hungarian scholarship. Now, together with these 100 who have scholarships from the Hungarian government, there are 2100 Iranian students studying in universities of Hungary, both in Budapest and in the countryside. Out of the 2000, 1,500 are studying on medical faculties,

so, they will become doctors. Half of them have already been enrolled in PhD courses. So, I do hope that the knowledge, they get there in Hungary, will contribute to the successful reform and the improvement of the level of standards of the health care system here in Iran.

Q: Iran's foreign minister, Mr. Amir Abdullahian, has talked about finalizing the roadmap between the two countries. Can you talk about what is this roadmap and when is it going to be finalized?

A: Actually, it has been finalized and signed in a form because whatever has been written in that draft roadmap, most of it has been enshrined in the protocol of the Joint Economic Commission we have signed today. So, I'll ask the minister whether he still thinks it's necessary to have a separate roadmap from the protocol of the Joint Economic Commission. If he wants, of course, we can handle this separately. If not, then we can look at the protocol of the Joint Economic Commission as an action plan since it is an action plan, and it sets duties and the schedule and deadlines for common actions we have agreed upon.

Q: Would that consider anything other than the economy?

A: Well, I think currently we do have to concentrate on economic and trade, education, culture and sports cooperation. You know, there are traditionally very good ties between the sports organizations in Iran and Hungary. Our wrestlers, our weightlifters usually come together. The leadership of your Olympic Committee visited Hungary last year. They had an extensive meeting with the leadership of the Hungarian Olympic Committee. They have agreed on common programs and training camps. So I don't see the reason why we should not put more emphasis there.

Q: The most important thing for public opinion is the media. Have you thought anything about any plans for expanding media cooperation so there would be a better image for both sides?

A: Look, our national broadcaster is always open to any kind of external and international cooperation because we consider national media as a good tool to showcase our culture and to showcase the cultures of others in Hungary. We respect the Persian culture a lot. Whoever comes to Iran, to Tehran or any other cities here can be convinced very easily that you have an extremely rich and respectful culture.

So, I would be happy if more Hungarians could come to know that. And of course, I would be happy if more Iranians could come to know the Hungarian culture. You know, we are proud of our statehood. We are proud of our nation. We have a more than 1,000-year long history. We are a Christian nation, so a bit different than yours. And I think that can make us even more interesting for you and vice versa. So, we would be absolutely happy to build cooperation in that field as well.

Q: If we go back to the economic sector, to what extent do you think the development of economic and transportation cooperation with Hungary that is in central Europe can help Iran access to the European market, by the European market?

A: Oh, absolutely it can, since we are members of the European Union, we are members of the Schengen area. So, Hungary can easily be considered by Iran as a gateway to Europe.

As far as I heard from your Minister of Economy and Finance, there are other European countries as well who are trading with Iran directly. There are some who are trading with Iran through a third country.

So, I do believe that Hungary can serve as a gateway for you when it comes to trade and economic cooperation. As I told you, I want to emphasize that we Hungarians, given the structure of our economy, given the nature of ours, we are absolutely in favor of free and fair global trade. And we look at obstacles as bad news. We look at disturbances in global trade as bad news. Simply because, if you look at our structure of economy, our exports, our exports equal around 85% of our GDP.

The FDI influx is really determining when it comes to the economic performance of the country. So, for us, external economic relations are very important.

Q: At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned sanctions. Considering the problems of international financial transactions for Iran, good relations between the two countries can make it easier to exchange like commodity for commodity or internal currencies for trading. Have you thought about that in the Commission and do you have any plans for it?

A: Yeah, we have discussed this issue as well. Because there are economic areas which are clearly not affected by the sanctions. So their trading is absolutely free and legitimate. And I don't think that trading

in non-sanction impacted areas should be legitimately burdened by financial sanctions. So we have to find a way how we show respect to international regulations, but still, we are able to manage the financial side of our non-sanction-related activities. So our national bank is led by really great professionals. So we will ask them to look into this matter.

As we understand that the responsible authority from your side is the national bank as well. And the two of them have to find out how we can carry out such kind of transactions without violating any sanctions.

Q: It seems that Hungary has adopted more look to the east policy recently. And based on that Iran will play a very critical role. So, to what extent that policy has made the Western countries worry about that and put pressure on Hungary? Recently, David Pressman, the US ambassador for Hungary has said that it's going to use, if Hungary doesn't make clear its policies towards NATO and EU, they're going to put pressure on Hungary. Can you let me know what pressure would that be?

A: We do consider our opening to the east policy as a huge success story.

Simply because everyone has to understand that the east has not only picked up when it comes to global economy but in many economic areas, eastern companies are now taking the global lead. Their financial conditions, their technological skills, and their economic resources are simply outscoring the European or the Western ones. It's so obvious.

So, therefore, there is huge competition in the Western world, including Europe, for investments from the east to attract them to them. So, the Chinese and the Korean investors are having an ever-growing role in our national economy because we are attractive enough for them. But whenever these investors come to Hungary, we win these competitions in a very tough race and the Western countries are really eager to get these investments as well because these are modern investments, these bring financial impact to the country, they employ the people, they give good salaries to the families, so they help the economy to grow.

So the biggest problem of the Westerners with our opening to the east policy is that we are becoming a competitor to them. And on many occasions, it is Hungary who can attract these modern eastern investments and not the Western European countries.

So it's only a matter of competition because, I mean, many Western countries speak for isolation, speak up for isolation of eastern and western economies. But in the meantime, what we see in Hungary is that the biggest Western European companies are working together with either Chinese or Korean suppliers. And I would even say, this is a kind of exaggeration, that many Western European companies in key industries are dependent either on the Chinese or the Korean suppliers. And cutting these ties, you know, would be really, let's say, illogical, not to use more serious words here.

So when it comes to the American ambassador to Budapest, he has a double function. He is an American ambassador and leader of the Hungarian opposition. Actually. So he interferes with domestic issues. He makes statements which are totally unacceptable.

I can just tell you that in my case, when I delegate an ambassador, I forbid them, always, forbid them to make any statements about domestic politics in that given country, to take part in political actions, to interfere. Because we are not colonialists and we don't send rulers. We send rulers with respect, with the goal of improving the relationship. You know? So, of course, the current American administration is putting pressure on us in many ways and many issues.

But we are not responsible for the American administration. We are responsible for the Hungarian people. And since the Hungarian people have re-elected us already three times in a row, I think this is the only, the only assessment we have to take into consideration. But this doesn't happen only in Hungary.

Q: When they want to have their own independent policies, when it's not in the role with the Western policies, they put pressure, sanctions, and why do they give themselves this right to say such words and give such pressures?

A: Well, I can just refer to the Hungarian example. Hungary has been under financial sanctions as well. Because in the European Union, there are regulations and contracts based on which all member states are entitled to receive a certain amount of European funds to develop their own economies, agriculture, industry, social issues, education system, and whatever. Based on the level of development, based on size, based on GDP, there are determined amounts which all member states must receive from the European Union, parallel to paying into the common budget.

Now, what happened was that because of purely political reasons, Brussels has decided to freeze the financial assets, the funds for Hungary.

And this has been the case for almost two years now. Now, partly, they started to release some of these because, I mean, legally speaking, it was so unsustainable what they have been doing.

But yes, in the case of Hungary, as we are carrying out a clearly patriotic policy, as we are not ready to be totally in line with the liberal mainstream, since we represent our own national interest, sometimes, or even always, we have to be faced with such kind of counteractions. But, I mean, since we were elected first in 2010, and since 2010, it has been clear that we represent our own interest and not the interest of someone else. So, since 2010, these kind of attacks and accusations and pressures on us, you know, are there with changing intensity, let's put it this way.

Q: You talked about the US interference in policies. At a party meeting in September, Prime Minister Orban, while criticizing foreign financial aid to the opposition in Hungary, specifically mentioned the civil society groups that are financed through Brussels and the Soros network. Some think that some in Iran think that this is only happening in Iran, and then others, the opposition in Iran, hear such things, they think that this is an illusion. Tell me about your experience of foreign interference.

A: Look, what happened in Hungary during the last elections was, that it was so suspicious that all the opposition parties, seven of them, from far right to the far left, or as their prime ministerial candidate has said, from the fascists or from the Nazis, he said, I don't, to the communists, he said, everybody was on the same ticket, which was very unusual, because parties with so different strategies, so different approaches, you know, they were on the same ticket. And it turned out that tens of millions of dollars had been invested into them from the United States. So throughout the elections, they had tens of millions of dollars to spend in order to influence the public will in Hungary and to achieve a political change. Now, this is very anti-democratic, this is unacceptable, and this is against the law.

This is against the law in Hungary. So in order not to allow any more such foreign interference to take place in Hungary, we have been implementing a strict law which aims at the protection of the sovereignty of the country, which will make it very complicated, let's put it this way, to interfere by financial means into domestic issues in Hungary. But it's obvious, I mean, it's not a secret, it's open, that many media outlets in Hungary, which are supposed to be independent, as they say, and many so-called NGOs, are being financed by foreign sources. And the network of George Soros is definitely among the number one financiers.

Q: The reports indicate that Hungary is trying to expand its use of nuclear technology. Why is this technology so important and why do the western countries allow themselves to decide who can use it?

A: Look, we have been using nuclear technology for almost 50 years now. Half of our electricity production is nuclear and one-third of our electricity demand is covered by nuclear. And we understand that if you pose the question, of how you can generate electricity in big volume, cheap, safe, and environmentally friendly way, then it's only the nuclear. So, therefore, we are now building a new nuclear power plant. You know, of course, we got a lot of criticism because Rosatom, the Russian energy company, is the main contractor.

But the fact is that the subcontractors are Americans, Germans, French, Austrians, and Swiss. So, it's an international project. And, of course, there's a big pressure on us, you know, not to do it.

And all this kind of stuff. But, in the meantime, a fun fact, Russia was the number one supplier of the United States last year when it comes to uranium. So, as long as the Americans are buying uranium from the Russians, they should not tell us that we should not work together with the Russians on nuclear energy.

Thank you very much. I appreciate you being with us.


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