Former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin says that Iran’s has the right, like any other country, to go on with its peaceful nuclear program and hopes that the sanctions, which he describes as harmful to ordinary citizens, can be lifted as a result of negotiations between Iran and the West.
Kalfin was the minister of foreign affairs of Bulgaria and deputy prime minister from 2005 to 2009. He is currently a member of European Parliament where he is serving as the Vice-chairman of the Committee on Budgets. From 2002 to 2005, he was an economic advisor to the President of Bulgaria, Georgi Paranov.
Following is the first part the exclusive interview with Mr. Kalfin in which Tehran Times’ Kourosh Ziabari discusses with him Iran’s new turn on foreign policy and the future of its nuclear program as well as the current state of affairs in the Middle East, especially in Syria.
Q: Dr. Kalfin; What’s your viewpoint on Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic offensive and his efforts to reach out to the United States and settle the longstanding disputes with the West over Iran’s nuclear program?
A: I’m encouraged and look with hope into the developments of Iran’s relations with the European Union, the United States and the Western partners. We have issues related to Iran’s nuclear case. Bulgaria, is a country that is developing nuclear power for energy but we are also a member to the international conventions on the use of nuclear energy. So, it is the right of Iran and any country to develop peaceful nuclear power and energy. At the same time, there should be guarantees that this cannot turn into raising an arm race, because in this region, like any other region in the world, this may trigger very dangerous events. So, I think it’s in interest of everybody to have an open dialog to give the possibility to Iran to develop peaceful nuclear power, but again also it should give assurance to the world that it does not move toward the accumulation of nuclear arms in the region. This goes for all the countries in the region. Bulgaria is supporting nuclear disarmament everywhere in the world and again I’m very encouraged by the possibility for a new dialog in a new atmosphere with the Iranian President. These issues have been accumulated for many years but I think we could find new ways and step by step normalize the relations. This is going to be very important for Bulgaria. We are eagerly looking forward to develop cultural and economic relations with Iran and this would be a very good piece of news for Bulgaria.
Q: What do you think about the unilateral sanctions which have been imposed against Iran outside the framework of the United Nations Security Council, especially the EU’s oil embargo which was endorsed by the EU foreign ministers including Bulgaria? Is the EU ready to lift the sanctions if the nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers lead to substantive and significant results?
A: I think the sanctions are the last step and measure, especially in that they are affecting the normal citizens and the everyday life of the people in the country. I think that it’s not possible to go through the Security Council because of the disagreements there. At the same time, I’m very much hopeful that there will be a new chapter in the relations of Iran with the European Union and the Western world, and I think that the last opening will be that the sanctions would be released.
Q: What do you think about the humanitarian impact of the sanctions? Aren’t they detrimental and harmful to the daily lives of the ordinary Iranian citizens?
A: They are detrimental; they are harmful to the ordinary citizens of Iran. I tell you this as somebody living in Bulgaria. We have been a neighbor of Yugoslavia which has been under an embargo for many years, and I have witnessed how people were suffering from this. The key to the solving of the problem is in the hands of the government and politicians to open the dialog and create the conditions for the lifting of the sanctions. Again, sanctions cannot be a lasting solution. This can give only an incentive to solve the problems, but the final key is in the hand of the politicians.
Q: As a NATO member state, what’s Bulgaria’s position on the crisis in Syria? Would Bulgaria take part in a possible military strike against Syria? What’s your viewpoint regarding the involvement of Al-Qaeda terrorist and foreign-backed mercenaries in the war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad? Doesn’t it represent a kind of duplicitous policy that the United States is supporting al-Qaeda in Syria?
A: NATO is not involved in the conflict in Syria and there are no such talks and such preparations. Unfortunately, what is happening in Syria is negatively affecting the Syrian people and the young Syrians. We just had a meeting in the group of socialists in the European Parliament with three young Syrian refugees that are fleeing their country. These young people are somehow displaced because of the war and the conflict in their country. All the efforts have to be sought in order to start the peace process in Syria. I think it’s not going to be facilitated by the use of military force from an external source. I think it should be assured that all the solutions for Syria should remain peaceful. A good move was the decision on the chemical weapons. I think that this is the first step that should continue and go on until finding a lasting solution, but again using military or paramilitary means is not going to be a good service to the country, either from the neighbors or the countries outside the region.