Iran Opening New Chapter in Relations with Greece

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mahmoud Fazeli
Europe Analyst

A recent official trip to Iran by Greece’s 42-year-old prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and the high-ranking political and economic delegation that accompanied him, and his negotiations with the highest ranking Iranian officials will, undoubtedly, open a new chapter in bilateral relations between these two historical countries. These relations have entered a new phase following election of Greece’s new government last year. A previous visit to Iran by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias last December, which came in response to a visit to Greece by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last July, was a first step by the two countries to start a new phase in their relations. Kotzias believed that Greece’s foreign policy, and that of Iran on the other hand, can determine a framework to help further expand bilateral relations. Greece is a European country and follows a multilateral energy policy. The important point in this policy is development of relations with Iran in cultural, education, and economic areas. From the viewpoint of the Greek foreign minister, the two countries complement each other and this is a factor, which facilitates their cooperation.

Development of economic relations between the two countries will also help establishment of security in the region and the important point is that investors and businesspeople must be allowed to add more stability to this cooperation. Out of member states of the European Union, Greece has taken more positive positions, compared to its European partners, with regard to Iran. Even after Iran clinched a nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, Athens officially congratulated all parties involved in negotiation on Iran’s nuclear case, who “did their best to achieve the final agreement, which led to removal of Western sanctions against Iran.” Greece also noted that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), was an important step toward establishment of peace and security, noting that achievement of the agreement and removal of sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran “would be to everybody’s benefit and provide grounds for further development of trade and economic exchanges between the two sides.” The Greek prime minister has also continuously supported development of economic cooperation with Iran over the last year, and announced readiness of his country to further boost bilateral trade exchanges, while emphasizing that due to slowdown of bilateral trade, its improvement must take place at high speed. From his viewpoint, Iran’s participation, especially in the implementation of economic and energy projects in Greece is of high importance. He also maintains that resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue has been useful for all countries as can lead to more development and stability in the region. Tsipras has also described sanctions against Iran as unfair while mentioning terrorist threats and measures taken by Daesh as a common threat and concern for both countries. Before anti-Iran sanctions were removed, Greece had held a number of economic conferences attended by hundreds of businesspeople in order to make those businesspeople more familiar with economic capacities of Iran.

From Greece’s viewpoint, trade ties between Greece and Iran as well as fertile grounds for investment in Iran have drawn special attention to relations between the two countries. From Athens' viewpoint, Greece enjoys a special strategic position in its own region, which includes the Balkan Belt, the Black Sea as well as North Aegean countries. Greece is also a member of the European Union and this is one of the elements of which every investor can take advantage. From Athens’ viewpoint, Greek goods play a special role in trade relations between the two countries as technological products and packaged goods coming from Greece are known for their high quality in the world. Iran can, for its turn, play a useful part in these relations in such fields as transportation, trade, shipping and energy. With regard to tourism, Greece is a very good destination for tourists and Greek officials are of the opinion that tourism would play an important role in the new road map for cooperation between the two countries. The case of Greek oil companies’ debt to Iran was also closed during Greek prime minister’s visit to Tehran after the two sides agreed to reach a decision on the payment by Greece’s biggest oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum “in the next few months.” This issue had been emphasized in a recent meeting between the two countries’ oil industry officials in Athens. Before Western sanctions were imposed on Iran in 2011, Greece purchased about 20 percent of its needed crude oil from Iran and Hellenic Petroleum, which is the country’s biggest refiner, was a major customer of Iran’s crude oil. The company owed Iran about USD 800 million in return for crude oil it had bought from Iran before sanctions were put in place. Both sides have now reached an agreement on how to settle that debt and are optimistic about the possibility of signing an agreement in this regard.

Both sides maintain that settlement of debts can pave the way for further strengthening of cooperation. Greece is predicted to be among the first European customers of Iran’s crude after sanctions are removed. Hellenic Petroleum has said in a statement that based on this contract, it will immediately start purchasing oil from Iran and settle its overdue debt with Iran. The youngest prime minister in the European Union, however, is currently grappling with various domestic problems. The first leftist government in this country rose to power on the back of promises to oppose economic austerity measures, but later on, it was forced to ignore some of its election slogans and even see separation of some of its revolutionary colleagues. In order not to exit the eurozone and the European Union, the Greek government was forced to remain committed to its obligations to the troika of international lenders – consisting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the European Union. This issue has led to widespread protests and strikes by various social classes over the past weeks. Tsipras and his party are hoping that by getting the bill on the retirement system passed through the parliament, they would be able to take another step toward improvement of the country’s economic situation. This bill, however, has been met with opposition from almost all parliamentary parties and seems to have a bumpy road to go before getting parliamentary approval.

Key Words: Iran, New Chapter, Relations, Greece, Alexis Tsipras, Nikos Kotzias, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Energy Policy, Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), Strategic Position, Hellenic Petroleum, Settlement of Debts, European Union, Fazeli

Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: Press TV

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