An online panel discussion between Iranian and Serbian participants entitled “Iran, Serbia and The World Affected by Coronavirus Pandemic” was held under the auspices of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) and the Institute of International Politics and Economics (IIPE) on August 17, 2020. The speakers at the webinar were Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpoor, president of the IPIS; Seyed Majid Ghafelebashi, IPIS vice-president for research; Kayhan Barzegar, university professor of international relations; Hassan Ahmadian, professor at the University of Tehran; Srdan Korac, senior fellow researcher and deputy director at IIPE; Rashid Hassanpoor, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador to Serbia; Dragan Todorovic, Serbia’s ambassador to Iran; Mahdi Abedi, director general for East Europe Department at the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Milos Perisic, head of Department for Africa and the Middle East at the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Vladimir Trapara, research fellow and head of the IIPE′s Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies; Eghbali Zarch, senior fellow at the IPIS; Slobodan Jankovic, head of the Centre for Neighboring and Mediterranean Countries at the IIPE; and Dusan Prorokovic, head of the Centre for Eurasian Studies at the IIPE.
The first part of the panel discussion revolved around “the world under the pandemic and Iran-Serbia bilateral relations”, and the following questions were answered: What are the possible scenarios in Iran-Serbia relations following the new developments? What are the potential grounds for stronger mutual cooperation? How will the post-coronavirus world look and what are the future prospects and scenarios for the world?
In the second part of the webinar, discussions were held on “regional issues with the focus on Syria crisis, Persian Gulf region, the Balkans, and the European Union developments” to find answers to the following questions: What are the latest developments in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf and the European Union? What are the challenges and opportunities for mutual cooperation?
The main discussions held in response to those questions were as follows:
The two countries have maintained very friendly relations formally for more than 70 years. From the historical viewpoint, the king of Iran visited the Kingdom of Serbia in 1900. Serbia is willing to work in cooperation with Iran in various fields. Iran and Serbia have always held high-level political contacts and meetings. From the viewpoint of Serbia, considering the many neighbors around Iran, the two countries can seize the market opportunities in the third countries, such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on. The two countries have always supported each other’s stances in the international organizations. Iran has always supported Serbia’s territorial integrity. Despite the US sanctions against Iran, the two countries (Iran and Serbia) constantly try to strengthen economic relations.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused harm to the social relations and international relations, as disorder will escalate in the long term. As the international relations theories developed during the post-Cold War era, it is now necessary to develop new theoretical initiatives for the current period and the post-coronavirus era. The pandemic indicated that the military tools are no more the only proper option today, but there are also other factors in power and security. However, “diplomacy” is the most effective tool for dealing with the challenges of the present era.
The Balkans is a hotbed of geopolitical rivalry among the big powers. After dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has established an active presence in that region by adopting a geopolitical approach in order to prevent the fulfillment of the US’ geopolitical interests. Russia considers the Balkans as its traditional sphere of influence, while the Russian policy is to limit the expansion of NATO, control the energy routes in the Balkans, and hold friendly relations with the countries in the region on the basis of common culture, religion, and history. Russia’s support for Serbia is aimed at restricting the growth of NATO. Russia tries to keep the American forces away from its borders and prevent internal destabilization. As a result, the policy of Russia in the Middle East region is oriented towards defense, not offense.
The US has always pursued the purpose of expansion of NATO and military presence in that region, but Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are opposed to them. The West regards this part of Europe as a barrier to the expansion of the former Soviet Union and then Russia in the Mediterranean Sea. In general, the West tries to have control over the Balkans States and the strategic routes of the region to attain three strategic objectives: 1) to stifle and suffocate Russia by preventing it from having allies in the littoral region of the Balkans (NATO’s strategy to control the littoral section) and to block Russia’s access to eastern Mediterranean; 2) to control the European Union through influence on the new members; 3) to counter China’s economic policies and its influence in the Balkans by adopting economic and diplomatic policies.
The developments and characteristics of West Asia region and the Middle East would fit into four categories in terms of the significance of issues in this region, particularly considering the spillover of problems like terrorism and migration to the nearby regions, including the Balkans: 1) the constant instability resulting from multiple old crises in the region; 2) the conflict between the actors defending the status quo and those calling for a change to the status quo, which would result in the use of any tool (by the actors of the second group) and in the trans-regional actors’ involvement in the region; 3) the conflict between the advocates of internationalization of the region (such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia) and those seeking regional solutions to achieve sustainable stability and peace in the region; 4) the United States’ unilateral policy against the multilateral frameworks and approaches, including violation of the international law and disregard for the United Nations’ mechanisms (as in the JCPOA case).