ERBIL — Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Department of Relations with Iran, Abdullah Akrayi, said he expects the Islamic Republic of Iran to be the first country to recognize the result of a future referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq. He also explained the bilateral relations between Erbil and Tehran in an exclusive interview with BasNews.
BasNews: How do you evaluate the current relations between Iran and Kurdistan Region?
Akrayi: The relations are in good shape and there have been no critical issues which could damage the ties [between Erbil and Tehran].”
BasNews: Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani is said to visit Tehran, any truth to those reports?
Akrayi: Kurdistan Region President has not made any visit to Iran since 2009 despite several invitations from the Iranian officials. He lately accepted to visit Iran after the Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi delivered him an invitation. He will be visiting Tehran at a convenient time.
BasNews: Has any progress been made in the oil deal between Erbil and Tehran?
Akrayi: An oil deal between Kurdistan Region and Iran is under discussion for 4-5 years now. According to the deal, Kurdistan Region will send its oil to the Iranian refineries near the KRG borders, and Iran will either provide KRG with gas and diesel fuel, or it will hand crude oil to KRG in the Gulf.
However, the sides have not yet reached the point of signing the agreement.
BasNews: There are claims saying that Iran is not pleased by the unity of Kurds, and it attempts to deepen the gap between them in Kurdistan Region in hopes of dividing it between two separate administrations. Are these claims true?
Akrayi: The Iranian government has not made any official comment on that, and these claims are mostly circulating in the media. As far as we know, Iran doesn’t want problems in Kurdistan Region.
BasNews: Kurdistan Region is planning to hold independence referendum, how important is discussing the issue with Iran as it shares a long border with KRG?
Akrayi: [Independence] referendum is an internal issue of Kurdistan Region, and no other foreign country is welcome to interfere in such issues. Kurdistan Region, however, may conduct talks with Baghdad as it is yet part of Iraq.
The Iranian consul general in Sulaymaniyah has previously stated that the Kurdish independence referendum is an internal issue and Iran is not interfering in it.
BasNews: Has Iran openly expressed opposition to the case of Kurdish independence in Kurdistan Region?
Akrayi: Certainly not. We remember that after establishing federalism in Kurdistan Region, Iran was the first country to open its consulates in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. I strongly believe that Iran will support the result of a referendum even if it [votes for] independence. I believe that Iran will establish a friendly relations with [an independent Kurdistan].
BasNews: According to reports, the volume of trade between Iran and Kurdistan Region has significantly decreased, is that affected by the diplomatic relations?
Akrayi: Not at all; it has nothing to do with politics. The amount of trade has decreased, especially through Hajiomaran International Gate Complex, and it might have been affected by the economic crisis in Kurdistan Region as well as the war against the Islamic State (IS). These factors have also affected tourism as the number of Iranian tourists visiting Kurdistan Region has dropped.