The senior Iranian diplomat, who spoke to Al-Monitor onboard the plane carrying Zarif from Bangkok to Canberra, Australia, also talked about the details of the various meetings with Asian officials. “In some of the countries, what we were talking about was redundant. For example, in Thailand and Singapore, we had to repeat what we had already said in Brunei. We were trying to do marketing and talk about our abilities in the areas of tourism, hospitality, fishery, energy, oil and natural gas. We were more successful in Brunei and Thailand compared with Indonesia and Singapore, and both Brunei and Thailand expressed their interest in collaborating with Iran in the fields of hospitality, tourism, oil and natural gas,” he said.
However, from the very beginning, it was obvious that to Iran, Pacific countries were more important than Asian countries. Brunei’s and Thailand’s GDP are not comparable to those of Australia and New Zealand, and Australia’s and New Zealand’s technology are also much more advanced.
Zarif’s March 15 visit to Australia was the first by an Iranian foreign minister in almost two decades. The previous Iranian foreign minister who visited was Kamal Kharazi, under former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005).
Iran’s relations with New Zealand also have plenty of room to grow. Under Ahmadinejad, bilateral ties reached an all-time low amid stepped-up sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program. Trade between the two countries was estimated at more than $182 million in 2006, a year after Ahmadinejad took office. However, by 2015, this figure had dropped to $74 million, of which only $4 million was of Iranian exports to New Zealand — a country with a GDP of $171 billion and $182 billion in 2013 and 2014, respectively.