Austria hails Iran Leader’s resistance economy initiative

IRNA | Ali Izadi: Austrian Envoy to Iran Stefan Scholz welcomed the Resistance Economy initiative introduced by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Scholz said, ‘ We are proud to be a partner in the transformation of Iran’s economy and I must say we are really impressed by the way how your leadership embraces the current extraordinary challenges as an opportunity to renew the economic base of your country and to make it fit for the 21st century’s global market.’

‘By this we would build on Iran’s economic concept of resistance economy which has a second element which is an entrepreneurial focus and to build a resilient middle class of small and medium-sized economic operators,’ he said.

‘Austria was very pleased and honored to receive President Dr. Rohani for a productive and effective two-day state visit. The official talks were held on the 4th of July and seen as symbolic not only because he was the first Head of State to visit my country after Austria assumed the presidency of the EU Council but also because this was Dr. Rouhani’s first trip of his second term in office to a Western country as well as the first one after the US exit of the JCPOA,’ Scholz said.

US President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that Washington was walking away from the nuclear agreement.

Trump also reinstated US nuclear sanctions on Iran and imposed “the highest level” of economic bans on the Islamic Republic.

Underlining the background of relations between Iran and Austria, Scholz said, ‘Dr. Rohani’s visit was seen in Austria as a signal for Iran’s determination to further deepen the ties with Austria and to capitalize on the special profile on which the relationship between the two countries was built: 700 years of documented contacts, 500 years of partnership, 160 years of full diplomatic relations and 60 years since the opening of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Tehran.’

‘The presidents underscored that Iran has a universally endorsed interdependent and inseparable right to enjoy economic benefits from the JCPOA, provided that it fulfills its obligations from the agreement as has been certified by the IAEA meanwhile 12 times,’ he added.

‘Austrian Foreign Minister [Karin] Kneissl warned that the US’s exit from the deal already has had a huge impact on credibility as there is a general loss of reputation for the tenet forming the fundamental legal principle of treaty compliance – so we have to act now jointly and in tandem,’ he reiterated.

“FM Kneissl expresses absolute resolve to preserve the JCPOA & raises principle legal concerns exiting the deal would have a huge impact on our credibility as there would be a general loss of reputation for the tenet forming the fundamental legal principle of treaty compliance,” Scholz earlier wrote in his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, Kneissl in a Twitter message on May 28 referred to her meeting with EU top diplomat saying, “Excellent discussion with High Representative @FedericaMog after today’s #FAC in #Brussels on maintaining the #JCPOA: agreements must be respected.’

He said, ‘Austria together with its EU partners are working hard to preserve the economic dimension of the JCPOA which means the preservation of effective financing channels and the continuation of Iran’s export of oil, gas and petroleum products and to facilitate the continued participation of EU economic operators in the transformation of Iran towards a vibrant private sector based on Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) economy.’

Commenting on Austria plan to protect its firms against US crippling sanctions, he noted, ‘As an early harvest the EU on 7 August enacted its updated blocking statute to shield EU companies doing legitimate business in Iran from re-imposed unilateral US sanctions. Moreover, a first package of Euro18 million has been adopted for projects in support of high-potential Iranian small and medium-sized enterprises, the development of selected value chains, and technical assistance to Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization to develop a new comprehensive export strategy.’

It is worth noting that on August 6 the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy vowed that the EU is to shield its companies against US re-imposition of sanctions against Iran.

‘We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU law and with UN Security Council Resolution 2231,’ Mogherini said.

Reiterating Vienna determination to boost economic ties with Iran, Scholz said, ‘Complementary to the efforts at the EU level in maintaining and preserving the economic dimension of the JCPOA, Austria is working on concepts to maintain and to promote wider economic and sectoral relations with Iran. We are looking at virtually all possibilities including also innovative out-of- the-box solutions such as digital payment systems with block chain technology, jointly fighting with Iran their misuse by the dark net and money laundering.’

He went on to say that ‘Austria’s small but strategic contribution to strengthening trust and predictability in regional policy is to develop a network of sector partnerships, all of them with a regional dimension.’

Austrian envoy continued by raising examples saying ‘among them is building resilience for Heavy Urban Search and Rescue, where Austria has brought Iranian senior practitioners to attend as the only foreign team in the biggest EU exercise, held in Austria in May this year.’

‘With this partnership, we hope not only to engage with Iran but also to enable our partner country over time to build the necessary capacity to become a first responder in the region in the event of natural disasters. This will help to build good will in terms of soft diplomacy,’ Stefan Scholz said.

‘Another sector partnership that we have just started is the protection of cultural property in the event of disaster. The president of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) Mr. Karl Habsburg-Lothringen visited Iran and held meetings with the Foreign Ministry and the Vice President of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of Iran (ICHTO) offering them a partnership in building a strong Iranian Blue Shield Committee. This Iranian body subsequently could develop a leading regional role in promoting training not only for Iranian stakeholders but also for neighboring countries both for their civilian and military forces,’ he added.

‘With this concept of building a network of partnerships, we try to bring a new dimension to regional policy and a strong sense of predictability which will facilitate foreign countries to engage with Iran.’

Elaborating on Austria economic potentials, Scholz said, ‘Austria has a lot to offer because 97 percent of our economy is based on small and medium-sized enterprises. With no oil and little natural resources Austria is taking advantage of its hidden strengths: education, skills and innovative people, thriving on apprenticeship traditions since the middle ages. Not every one needs to go to university since practitioners form the backbone of an entrepreneurial middle class operating our economy.’

‘The great number of these young people who start at the age of 15 working each week two days on the factory floor and three days at school later become self-employed and capable to build their own business. And exactly this is the model that we want to present to our Iranian partners, addressing the potentials for a strong SME based entrepreneurial middle of Iran’s economy, complementing the bazaari and big industries,’ he added.

‘The way forward that we envisage would be to jointly with our Iranian partners develop curriculum projects and implementing them in the existing entrepreneurial schools,’ he noted.

Referring to the background of Austria relations, Scholz said, ‘There is one element that is competition policy which can be a driving force for a theory of change in a given country.’

When Austria joined the EU in 1995, we still had a rather antiquated competition law and we faced resistance from vested interests in implementing it. Twenty-two years later, Austria has grown much stronger with six out of ten euros (60%) of our Gross domestic product (GDP) being produced by export oriented businesses.’

‘So the success of Europe and our internal market is based on effective and relevant competition rules and institutions and this is another element where we think where we can partner with Iran,’ he added.

‘The final element is the issue of technology transfer which of course can be important for catching-up but the even more important aspect is innovation in terms of the capability for innovation and controlling the technology that you buy in the first place because when you buy technology you always introduce one that is already used and no longer cutting-edge so you face the dilemma of always being one generation behind unless you combine it with a strong focus on innovation to control and further develop it.’

‘A culture of innovation requires a horizontal integration of research institutions, universities and private sector. This is a constant process and in Austria too we are grappling with the optimal mix and lately lost some points in international innovation indices.’

Elsewhere in his remarks Scholz pointed to Austrian companies’ plans for maintaining cooperation with Iran, saying, ‘Many of our economic operators are in a wait and see-mode because none of them, including us yet know the detailed rules and practice for the implementation of US secondary sanctions.’

‘Both Iranian businesses with whom our Economic operators have signed so many MoUs are waiting for more clarity and they all are waiting for the first mover to follow suit. I personally think that all the feasibility studies and business plans were not prepared in vain but it now is up to politics and diplomacy to do their homework.

The uncertainty that has been created, risks to create over compliance by individual operators because they are so afraid and uncertain that they would rather sit back or restrain themselves to the humanitarian sectors where they still can further develop their operations with some more certainty, provided that transaction channels are available,’ he said.

Addressing a meeting in Yazd Province Investment Service Center on August 11, Austrian envoy in Tehran Earlier said that the main goal of the European Union is to maintain financial and connecting channels for use of Iran from interests of international convention of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Referring to his provincial tours, he said, ‘I together with the Iranian-based representative of the Austrian economy are organizing a road-show through major Iranian regions and provinces to document the determination of Austria to engage and to cultivate a stockpile of long-term public/private sponsored partnerships in the area of capacity development and training.’

Emphasizing the importance of injecting optimism inside the country, Scholz said, ‘These partnerships are designed to be used by our economic operators as docking sites for trade and investment once the external threats are contained. This is Austria’s small but strategic response to the externally imposed climate of uncertainty overshadowing the full realization of the economic dimension of the JCPOA.’