Croatia and Iran should take advantage of the lifting of UN sanctions against Iran to strengthen their cooperation, notably in energy and transport, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in Tehran on Wednesday, adding that Croatia, because of its geographical position, could be Iran's gateway to the EU market.
The two presidents said they also talked about peace-building and stability in the Balkans and the Middle East, and underlined that the status of the Islamic community in Croatia could serve as an example not only in Europe, but globally.
"Croatia has historical and cultural points in common with Iran and, given its geographical position, can become a gateway for our relations with the European Union," Rouhani said after the talks.
Grabar-Kitarovic arrived in Iran on a three-day official visit accompanied by Economy Minister Tomislav Panenic, Enterprise Minister Darko Horvat, Defence Minister Josip Buljevic and more than 60 business people who hope to intensify economic relations with Iran, whose UN sanctions were lifted in January after it reached a nuclear deal with Western powers.
The two countries today signed agreements on economic cooperation and on cooperation between the chambers of commerce. An Iranian-Croatian Economic Forum was also held.
Grabar-Kitarovic said the emphasis of the visit was "on developing economic cooperation... I believe the economic forum and today's signing of cooperation agreements will provide an impetus both to trade and investments and to other kinds of doing business."
"We are aware of Iran's plans to modernise the transport and energy infrastructure and we believe there is enormous room for the participation and work of Croatian companies," she said, underlining projects in electrical energy and shipbuilding. "With its geostrategic position, Croatia can be a strategic point for goods from Iran for central and western Europe."
"Our relations in the past few years, given the sanctions that were imposed, were not satisfactory or on the right level, but with the president's arrival in Iran we decided to realise our agreements and expand our economic relations, notably in energy and transport," said Rouhani. "The arrival of such a big business delegation shows there is political will to elevate our relations."
He highlighted the recent celebration of the centenary of Islam's recognition as an official religion in Croatia. "We agreed that there is a need for dialogue between religions in order to achieve unity and cooperation. We believe that the arrival of Zagreb Mufti Aziz Hasanovic as part of the president's delegation is proof that there is respect for Muslims in Croatia. We consider that a model for relations with Muslims that other countries should follow."
Grabar-Kitarovic said, "We are extremely proud of our vibrant Islamic community in Croatia which is not only remarkably well-integrated into society, but is also an example of co-existence and mutual respect as well as respect for the Islamic community, both in Europe and worldwide."
The two presidents also talked about the building of international peace, security and stability, and the fight against terrorism. "Both sides confirmed resoluteness and the importance of the fight against terrorism and expressed interest in cooperation between Iran and the European Union," said Rouhani.
Grabar-Kitarovic said she "can't stress enough the key role Iran plays in this part of the world... On my behalf and on behalf of Croatia as a member of the European Union, I wish to encourage the efforts of Iran as well as other states in this region to reach peace and stability."
Grabar-Kitarovic's visit is the first direct meeting at the highest level between Croatia and Iran since the sanctions against Iran were lifted. Aside from Rouhani, she met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. She is scheduled to meet with other top officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.
The Croatian delegation is among the first from Europe to visit Iran after the lifting of UN sanctions.