Romanian Ambassador to Iraq addresses diplomatic, security, and economic cooperation with Kurdistan Region
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In May, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis signed the accreditation decree for Radu Octavian Dobre to hold the post of Ambassador to Iraq, having previously served as the southeastern European nation’s Ambassador in New Delhi. In early December, he addressed a celebration in Erbil for Romania's national day, saying at the time that, “The Kurdistan Region is becoming more important for Romania in terms of trade and bilateral relations.” Dobre agreed to field questions from Kurdistan 24 regarding Romania’s activities, relationships, and future plans in the autonomous Kurdistan Region and Iraq.
Q: Romanian military advisors withdrew from Iraq at the peak of US-Iran tensions in early 2020. Is there any plan to redeploy them as the US-led Coalition to Defeat ISIS transitions into an advisory role by 2022?
A: From early days, Romania has been contributing to the Global Coalition’s efforts through training and advising Iraq’s Security Forces (ISF) in the fight against ISIS. However, the outburst of COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 brought with it a number of issues that contributed to a large-scale, worldwide reshuffle. The members of the Romanian training and advise team have been repatriated in the context of the pandemic in order to reduce the spread of the virus and, at the beginning of 2021, the Romanian team has resumed its training and advise mission.
Romania is committed to support Iraq in combating terrorism and violent extremism through strengthening the ability of the ISF for self-sustenance, both at institutional and operational levels, as well as to reform the civilian security sector. The contingent of our military personnel in Iraq will be tailored in a manner that will adapt to the requirements of the Iraqi Government, having as a priority the best interest of the Iraqi people.
Q: Romania offers exchange programs for Iraqi students, including the ones in the Kurdistan Region. How many Iraqi students have benefited from this opportunity in total? Is there a plan to expand the program?
A: For many years, the Romanian Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been offering on an annual basis a number of scholarships for non-EU students, including from Iraq. We are proud that many Iraqis who studied in Romania have returned to Iraq and brought with them the expertise gained in our education institutions and they have also maintained a close relationship with our country, playing an important role in developing our cultural and economic ties.
It is necessary to underline that while some students benefit from scholarship programs, many others choose Romanian universities for their expertise, regardless of the scholarship programs. During the 2021-2022 academic year, we had a few hundred students from Iraq.
As well, we are trying to establish a connection between universities from Iraq and Romania. This initiative would create the opportunity of implementing joint research and education projects. Furthermore, we are committed to promote among the Iraqi universities the academic exchange program ERASMUS Plus, financed by the EU, which creates important opportunities for advancing quality education and research, as well as the Bologna process in Iraq.
Q: How do you assess the current state of economic ties between Iraq, Romania, and the Kurdistan Region? In which economic activities are the countries most engaged?
A: Romania has always kept a business presence in Iraq. From 1958, Romania had an important contribution to the economic development of Iraq, especially in the oil and gas sector. More recently, we have been engaged in many local projects of infrastructure, thus conveying our expertise in sectors like hydro-engineering and the oil and gas sector. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq offered a number of opportunities for Romanian companies, some of them still being active in certain fields, like construction, oil and gas infrastructure, pharmaceuticals and services.
Many Romanian companies show a great share of interest in Iraq and there is a potential for developing bilateral economic ties in oil sector, energy sector, civil and industrial constructions, infrastructure, transports, information technology and communications and agricultural sector.
Q: What is Romania’s foreign policy priorities in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region?
A: A politically stable and economically developed Iraq is essential for the security of Romania and the European Union. We acknowledge and respect the role played by the Kurdistan Region in defeating ISIS and for contributing to the security of Iraq.
Iraq is positioned in a very active geopolitical zone, and I sincerely believe that soon it will become one of the most important countries in the Middle East.
Our main objectives are to enhance the political dialogue, aiming to identify and develop opportunities for cooperation and to promote mutual knowledge and understanding in all fields: political, economic and cultural.
We always viewed the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as open to dialogue and business and we hope to augment relations with both, authorities and local business.
Q: How does Romania contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq through the EU? Is there such an engagement with the Kurdistan Region as well?
A: Since the early days of negotiations for EU integration, which culminated with Romania’s accession to the European Union in 2007, we have adhered to the EU foreign policy projects, often finding commonalities of vision and approaches in this regard. The EUJUST-LEX was the first EU integrated rule of law mission conducted under the Common Security and Defense Policy, to which we contributed with 77 Romanian experts. In parallel with this project, we have had experts embedded in various EU mechanisms involving Iraq, both in-situ and in Brussels. Romania is a contributor to the budget of the EU, so we are, indirectly, supporting all the projects EU is running in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Q: How do you assess the diplomatic relationship with the Kurdistan Region?
A: The relationship with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is evolving. Our Consular office in Erbil, since its opening, has enjoyed the support and cooperation of the local authorities. We are keen on developing stronger economic and cultural ties.
Q: Previously, there were some threats on Romanian nationals in Iraq. Are there any such threats nowadays?
A: No, and this is a new opportunity for me to express my gratitude to all the Iraqi authorities, with special mention of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), for all their support in relation to the Romanian Embassy and Consular Office in Erbil, but most of all, for the Romanian citizens.
Q: What is the position of Romania on the latest migrant crisis along the Poland-Belarus border?
A: It is condemnable that illegal migration has been instrumentalized by Belarusian authorities for political purposes thus deliberately putting people’s lives and well-being in danger. RO (Romania) stands in full solidarity with the EU Member States affected by this hybrid attack. Fundamental values will continue to guide our actions.
Q: The KRG is working on diversifying its economy and relying more on non-oil revenues. In what areas can Romania support the Kurdistan Region to achieve its economic sustainability?
A: The efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government to diversify its revenues are commendable. This proves a solid vision towards a sustainable economy. As you know, nowadays, Romania has one of the most rapid (levels of) economic growth in the world. Since 1989, my country went through a painful transformation, from a state-owned economy into an almost fully private one. We are ready to share our experiences (positive and negative) and also legal and institutional reforms we applied to attract foreign investments. We have strong companies in fields like: IT, railways, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, energy, waste management, defense, agriculture, etc. Our Embassy is ready to assist any state authority or private company willing to enter into a business relationship with a Romanian company. I encourage any interested institution or company to contact us and we will do our best to assist in any way possible.
As well, Romania is an emerging donor of official development assistance which proved to have considerable expertise in various fields of interest for the development partners. In this respect, the Government of Romania adopted, in November 2020, the Multiannual Strategic Program on the International Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance for the period 2020-2023, establishing Romania’s geographic areas of interest in the field of development cooperation and, as well, the thematic priorities and interests, including sustainable economic development and education and youth promotion.
As an example, according to the Multiannual Strategic Program and in the spirit of the Team Europe approach, in 2020 Romania provided official development assistance in support of the Republic of Iraq in the amount of 231,000 EURO, 87% of this amount being allocated to (the) education domain.