Austria, Iran's Entry Gate into Europe

Friday, May 2, 2014

Seyed Ali Khorram
Iran's Former Ambassador to United Nations’ European Headquarters in Vienna

Relations between Iran and Austria have been generally free from tension and major challenges since the end of the World War II and perhaps except for a few cases, the two countries’ ties have been totally amicable. Every time that there has been tension in Iran's relations with European countries, Austria has been the last European country to lower its ties with Iran and when suitable conditions have been provided, it has been the first country to resume ties with the Islamic Republic. This situation clearly proves the convergence that exists between the two countries’ interests and national security. Due to shortage of natural raw materials such as oil and gas reserves, Austria has been constantly looking to Iran for the supply of its needed energy. On the other hand, Iran has been trying to maintain friendly ties with Austria due to a variety of reasons, including access to European technology via Austria, Vienna’s willingness to invest in Iran's industrial projects, and the moderate and balanced foreign policy approach followed by the Austrian government. One decade ago, when Iran was considering a plan to build a gas pipeline through Austria to Europe, Austrian companies were actively involved in construction of the gas pipeline from Iran to Europe. As a result, they not only played a totally positive role in this regard, but also undertook relevant feasibility studies. Of course, European countries were very eager to see the completion of the pipeline, but due to strong opposition from the United States, the Austrian government was finally forced to discard plans it had made to build the pipeline.

At present, the confrontation between Russia and the United States and European countries [over the crisis in Ukraine], on the one hand, and relative thaw in Iran's relations with the United States, on the other hand, have opened a new window of opportunity for renewed investment in the pipeline which is to take Iran's natural gas to Austria, and have caused this project to seem more plausible. The recent trip to Iran by the Austrian Foreign Minister [Sebastian Kurz] who, among other things, sought to pave the way for a future visit to Iran by the Austrian President Heinz Fischer, can be considered a harbinger of serious negotiations over the aforesaid pipeline now that the West is relatively easing its sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Of course, construction of this pipeline is by no means in conflict with Russia’s gas sales to Europe because Moscow is currently supplying only less than half of the total gas consumed by European countries. Before one decade ago, when Europe was considered as Iran's number one trade partner, Austria accounted for a considerable share of the bilateral trade volume. Now, there are hopes that the improvement of Iran's relations with the European countries would help Iran and Austria to upgrade their relations to the level where they stood 10 years ago and even higher.

As said before, there is fortunately no basic conflict between the two countries’ foreign policy approaches to different issues and the existing differences can be also explained to clear the way for the two countries to reach an understanding over them. Austria is one of the countries, which has shown great interest in promoting understanding among religions and facilitating dialogue among various religious faiths. Under the reformist Iranian government, the Islamic Republic was itself a pioneer in this regard and gave high priority to efforts made to make proximity among divine religions possible. Austria has great respect for human rights and human dignity and this viewpoint is also compatible with the religious teachings and historical background of Iran. However, Iran is very sensitive about instrumental use of these concepts in politics as a leverage against the Islamic Republic. Therefore, frequent meetings should be held in order to get the viewpoints of two sides close together. Let’s not forget that the second international conference on human rights [known as World Conference on Human Rights] was held in 1993 in the Austrian capital city of Vienna. The conference was instrumental in facilitating global recognition of cultural diversity among various nations and helped to integrate this important concept in human rights approaches of various countries. More interestingly, the first International Conference on Human Rights was held in the Iranian capital city of Tehran from April 22 to May 13, 1968. The conference aimed to encourage countries to further commit to respecting the basic principles of human rights. Following the conference in Tehran, many countries joined International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and are now giving annual reports on their performance to the United Nations.

Austria is among European countries that are not only seriously opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, but have also given up peaceful use of nuclear technology voluntarily. They have taken this precautionary measure in order to prevent the possible use of the spent fuel of nuclear reactors from being used for the extraction of plutonium, which can be then enriched to a purity of over 90 percent and used in building nuclear weapons. However, the Austrian government has never considered respect for human rights and peaceful use of nuclear energy as obstacles to further expansion of its relations with other states and has consistently taken steps to develop ties with all countries. Vienna also hosted the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers. Iran has been taking part in the negotiations with ease of mind and has availed itself of satisfactory cooperation of the host country. Last but not least, there are over 2,500 Iranian students studying in various Austrian universities, which are considered future assets for their country. Also, more than 30,000 Iranians have been living in Austria since many years ago and are considered a potential positive capacity for all-out development of relations between the two countries. Therefore, Iran can take confident steps toward further expansion of relations with Austria. By doing this, the two countries will be able to make the most of the existing bilateral potentials in such areas as investment, oil and gas industry, technology transfer and even respect for human rights. Let’s not forget that there are no basic conflict between the general policies of Iran and Austria.

Key Words: Austria, Iran, Europe, European Technology, Sebastian Kurz, Human Rights, Nuclear Weapons, Expansion of Relations, Khorram

Source: Shargh Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: Khabaronline

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