Dr. Mohsen Eslami is Assistant Professor of the Department of International Relations, at the Tarbiat Modares University of Tehran. Recently he was invited for a round-table conference which was held by Pathfinder Foundation, in association with the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and in collaboration with the Strategic Council for Foreign Relations, on the theme ‘Iran and the Indian Ocean in the 21st Century’. In a brief interview with the Daily Mirror Dr. Eslami spoke about diplomatic relations between Iran and Sri Lanka. Excerpts:
Q During the war in Sri Lanka Iran was the biggest donor to Sri Lanka at one point. Since then how has the relationship between Sri Lanka and
The relationship between the two countries has progressed due to cultural ties. Trade has progressed. The two sides want to increase their cooperation, culturally, economically, and also politically. My opinion is that there is a need for more cooperation, more work from both sides. People in Sri Lanka love Iran and Iranians love Sri Lankans too. We associate Sri Lanka with tea which is so popular in Iran and also with the history of Sri Lanka in the ancient time. We need to accelerate the cooperation in various fields like trade, education, culture and tourism. Sri Lankans should come to Iran. This is my first time in Sri Lanka and it’s a beautiful country. Iranians can come here too.
Q Very recently there were agreements between Sri Lanka and Iran regarding health, economy, agriculture, trade and infrastructure. Why do you think that Iran has chosen Sri Lanka for these agreements?
Sri Lanka is an Asian country. According to the neighbourhood policy we have to focus on our neighbours first. There are cultural ties and historical ties between the two countries too. Sri Lankans are kind and passionate. Thirty years ago the Sri Lankan Government gave thirty thousand tea saplings to the Iranian Government to be planted in the North of Iran as we Iranians love tea. We don’t use coffee. We drink tea instead. This is also one of the aspects, where relations between Iran and Sri Lanka can be developed.
Q How does Iran benefit from this relationship?
Iran wants to cooperate in trade and tourism. Iranian industrial corporations have come to build dams, and work in the energy and electricity sectors in Sri Lanka. We have projects here, but I think they are too few. There should be more because Iran in some aspects like dam building, electricity, oil, energy, and engineering have a lot of potential. We can come here and use these capacities to improve the infrastructure of Sri Lanka. Chabahar, one of the cities in the South most part of Iran is like Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka is more beautiful. Because of that Iranians love this beautiful what they say natural, view in Sri Lanka.This is also one of the dimensions in which Iran should improve their relationship with Sri Lanka.
Iranian industrial corporations have come to build dams, and work in the energy and electricity sectors in Sri Lanka. We have projects here, but I think they are too few. There should be more because Iran in some aspects like dam building, electricity, oil, energy, engineering have a lot of potential. We can come here and use these capacities to improve the infrastructure of Sri Lanka
Q There were economic sanctions against Iran sometime back. With these sanctions being lifted Sri Lanka now has the opportunity to directly deal with Iranian banks in trade. How do you see the way ahead in trade between the two countries?
Since sanctions have been lifted and because of the agreement with the P5+1, relations between the two countries should ideally be improving. But the main problem has been bank operation. This is the key issue we face. My country has finalised the deal with Sri Lanka and we need banks to operate. We are waiting for banks to operate from the Sri Lankan side. Negotiations are going on now. We have to develop tourism, then the market, corporation industries, engineering etc.
Q In general, when a country donates aid to some development project should they assure that there will not be any impact on the environment before providing the aid? Should they assess the feasibility of the project before providing the loan?
We should do this. We study the project before the operation. There are international high level standards with which we are in keeping with. We also obey the laws and the regulations in relation to this. For example, in oil industries which are high tech. We want to come to Sri Lanka and form ties with the Sri Lankan government. For this, we have to focus on this regulation.
We can’t do anything which harms the nature. We are a Muslim country and we believe that you cannot harm trees because trees are a creature of God. When somebody wants to make a house, for example, and if there is an old tree there, he has to pay a penalty to the Mayor to cut the tree. Or he should plant a tree in another garden. So, we cannot harm the environment. If you want to do something you must obey the rules and regulations of the environment. We have an Environment Impact, Environment Index and some other regulations. This is our procedure.
Q Iran also has a nuclear programme. How does Iran assure that the nuclear programme will not be misused when there is a conflict in their diplomatic relations?
The Iranian nuclear programme is peaceful. The USA and other allies in the region have made a huge propaganda against Iran. But Iran adheres to the regulatory agency and the UN resolution. We also have a fatwa by our Supreme Leader that we will not produce nuclear bombs. According to the religion of Islam and the Sharia, it is haram or prohibited to produce nuclear bombs. We are waiting for the USA to make the operational decisions so that the issue of bank operations is resolved and financial transactions are normalized. We are very confident, despite boycotts and sanctions from the West. We are doing our best to improve Iran.
Thirty years ago the Sri Lankan Government gave thirty thousand tea saplings to the Iranian Government to be planted in the North of Iran as we Iranians love tea. We don’t use coffee. We use tea. Tea is one of the aspects in which relations between Iran and Sri Lanka can be developed.
Q Is the nuclear programme just limited to Iran? Or are there plans to expand it to other countries?
This is for our country. We achieved this victory in this field through our local knowledge. We can share our knowledge with other countries which are interested in learning about it.
Q Do you see any other opportunities where diplomatic relationships between Sri Lanka and Iran can be expanded to?
They can be expanded to the field of science because we have high ranking universities in Iran. Scholars can come here and share their knowledge in seminars and dialogues. Tourism is important as well. History is alive in both countries. Our people respect history and culture just as in Sri Lanka. So the two countries should pay attention to academia, trade, tourism, and culture.
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