Ex- Ambassador Lauds Thaw in Iranian- Albanian Ties
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published February 18, 2017

The relations between Iran and Albania have marked a significant step forward after the visit of the Foreign Minister, Ditmir Bushati to Teheran on January 14-15 this year, which was an opportunity to win the time lost in the ties between the two countries and people, Mr. Alibeman Eghbali Zarch, the head of the Iran-Albania Friendship Association has said.

Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati was received in Tehran by President Hassan Rouhani who was quoted by Tehran- based daily the Tehran Times as saying that the current atmosphere is a good opportunity to expand Tehran-Tirana relations. “The post-JCPOA period is a good opportunity to expand and deepen Tehran-Tirana cooperation in various areas, especially the economic sphere, and the opportunity should be used by the two countries’ private sectors,” said Mr. Rouhani. The Foreign Minister held official talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and said Albania is determined to expand relations with Iran.

The Tehran Times also quoted Mr. Bushati as mentioning that the lack of knowledge regarding trade capacities and investment opportunities as the main reasons for low volume of trade between the two countries and emphasized the need for holding more economic meetings, exhibitions and conferences.

The visit of Mr. Bushati, which has marked a thaw in the frozen relations between Albania and Iran for many years, was also praised highly by Mr. Alibeman Eghbali Zarch, who was Ambassador to Tirana from December 2006 until February 2010 and a well- known diplomat for his untiring attempts to improve the relations between his country and Albania. Despite the lack of normal contacts between the two governments, Mr. Eghbali did not spare his efforts to promote the relations between the two people and it is the occasion to highlight the fact that his frequent interviews in the local media, but especially with Albanian Daily News, gave constant messages that re- establishment of mutual friendly relations would be to the benefit of the two countries.

"It is clear to all that between the Iranian and Albanian people there are many common cultural elements, which have century- long roots," said the former Ambassador after the recent visit of Albania's top diplomat in mid- January this year, an initiative which the former had promoted  in many contributions published in Albanian Daily News during his tenure in Tirana. A clear example of the contribution of Iran to keep alive the people-to-people relations with Albania has been the Cultural Foundation "Saadi Shirazi", which is devoted to the development of Persian and Albanian culture and linguistic relations since its establishment in Tirana. 

The ‘overtures’ of Mr. Eghbali and his followers to Tirana for a mutual exchange of visits at ministerial level did not produce any result and all proposals of the Iranian side were 'shelved' at that time, but it is to be noted that such a thing did not discourage them to keep alive the possibility of establishment of normal relations.

On this occasion I personally cannot fail to praise their pragmatism and expectation expressed in the frequent interviews or exchange of views we have had for more than a decade summed up in their words: ‘Things will change’! At that time they were well aware of the fact that it was not a question of Albania alone, but any political move towards Iran was connected and conditioned by the tense relations of that country with the United States and some Western countries. Although Washington and most of the European countries started to re- establish the links with Tehran after the conclusion of the deal on Iran's nuclear program in July of 2015, it took more time for the Albanian diplomacy to change its ‘cautious’ course and follow the example of its strategic allies. 

"Many European countries, especially those of the Central and Eastern Europe, started the high-level negotiations during the time of the negotiations of Iran & P5+1, and there were demands from them since three years to travel to Iran and hold negotiations with Doctor Zarif, Iran's top diplomat," Mr. Eghbali said. 

Like other diplomats, former Ambassador Eghbali repeated in his last opinion that the cooperation in the field of energy between Iran and Albania could be of high importance.  "The Islamic Republic of Iran has the largest natural gas resources in the world and is ranked the fifth with regards to the oil reserves, while Albania imports half of the quantity of oil that it consumes domestically and the major part of the gas which it consumes. Given its geographic position your state can play an important role for the supply of a part of gas from Iran to Europe and at the same it can secure its needs for gas," he thinks.

It was reported that the question of the opening of an Albanian embassy in Teheran was discussed during Mr. Bushati's visit and with regards to this Mr. Eghbali recalls:

"Since the time that I have been present in your beautiful country, I was of the opinion that the permanent presence of Albanian representatives in Tehran could help for the better conception and knowledge by your leaders of the political realities as, for example, the religious democracy, economy, construction and development, culture like intensive dynamics of the scientific and technological progress in Iran," he said, adding that without doubt the opening of the embassy would promote the tourist exchanges between the two states. "It is a reality the fact that the two people nourish mutual respect and interest and required reciprocally to visit tourist countries and the cult monuments of the two states," he noted.

In a comment on an award granted to Grandfather Hajji Baba Mondi (Albanian: Haxhi Baba Edmond Brahimaj) by the former US President, Barack Obama, Mr. Eghbali confessed that when he was Iran's top envoy to Tirana he had a balanced cooperation with all the heads of the religious communities in that Balkan country.

There are four main beliefs in Albania: Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics and Bektashi. The latter's status is known as being the center of Bektashism in the world and Baba (Kryegjyshi) Mondi is the world leader of the Bektashi Order. In the meantime this Balkan country itself is considered as a unique case of the co-existence of various religious in the region and beyond.

"There are many years that I have not been in Albania and when I was there I have had a balanced and equilibrated cooperation with the different religious heads. A part of the population of Albania are followers of Bektashism, which is part of the Alevi Muslim groups. This community has a special link with the Twelve Imams, especially with Imam Reza (a.s.) whose mausoleum is in the city of Mashhad in Iran. The respected Baba Edmond Brahimaj enjoys my respect as a Bektashi leader because he is respected by the people of Albania," said the former Iranian Ambassador. "But it is important the fact that the religious communities in Albania have friendly relations with each other and are distinguished for the excellent co-existence," Mr. Eghbali said.

A topic which has been raised many times to Iran, an important member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has been the question of the recognition of Kosovo, and as a matter of fact that issue was raised to him in interviews that Albanian Daily News had with him and other Iranian Ambassadors in Tirana.

The OIC, in its 38th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, held in Astana in Kazakhstan on July 5, 2011, approved a Resolution on the situation in Kosovo. The Organization called for the first time for Kosovo’s recognition by its member states.  In point eight of the Resolution, OIC “called on all member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to consider recognizing Kosovo, in accordance with their free and sovereign rights and national practice.”

Kosovo’s recognition was also part of the discussions that Albania's Foreign Minister had in Tehran with his counterpart. A statement released by Albanian foreign ministry pointed out that “Minister Bushati requested the government of Iran to recognize Kosovo as an extremely important step to strengthen stability in the region of Southern Europe.”

Kosovo is an independent country in the Balkans since February 18, 2008, and is recognized by more than 112 countries a process which continues. There are many Muslim countries, even members of the OIC, which have established diplomatic relations with Kosovo like Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, Libya etc.

But, according to Mr. Eghbali, Kosovo authorities could have undertaken initiatives to meet Iranian authorities themselves. "I think that Kosovo authorities should hold meetings with the Iran's high state officials to explain their stances and points of view," said the former Ambassador of Iran to Albania.

Speaking on the same issue in an interview with Albanian Daily News on February 1, 2017, the current Ambassador of Iran to Albania, Gholamhossein Mohammadnia said that Mr. Bushati raised Kosovo’s recognition issue. “Let diplomacy work,” the Ambassador said, pointing out that there were no political reasons for Iran’s failure to establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

Like the former Ambassador, Mr. Eghbali, even the current top envoy of Tehran to Tirana, Mr. Mohammadnia was enthusiastic for Albanian Foreign Minister’s visit to Tehran considering it an historic event, which, as he said, would be a basis for the development and deepening of the bilateral relations between Iran and Albania.

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