Today’s Tunisia, which is on the path of democracy, wants to strengthen and deepen cooperation with Bulgaria.

On the 5th of October, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Tunisian Republic Khemaies Jhinaoui was on an official visit to our country at the invitation of his Bulgarian counterpart, Ekaterina Zaharieva. This was the first such visit since 1995. Mr. Khemaies Jhinaoui had meetings with the President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, with our Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, with the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly and others. At the end of his intensive program, he devoted time to give a special interview to the "Diplomatic Spectrum" magazine and "Standart" newspaper, in which he expressed his satisfaction by the new impetus that will be given to our relations after the visit.

Khemaies Jhinaoui has been Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia since the 6th of January 2016. He is a diplomat with great professional experience, high erudition and competence. Prior to becoming a Minister, he was Diplomatic and Foreign Affaires  Advisor to the President of the Republic of Tunisia (2015-2016), Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs / 2011- 2012 /. He was also Head of the Diplomatic Institute in Tunisia, General Director for Political and Economic Cooperation with Europe and the European Union /2006 to 2007,  Director and Chief of Staff of the Minister of Foreign Affairs / 2004-2006 /

Outside the country, from 2007 to 2011, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Tunisian Republic to the Russian Federation, jointly accredited to both Ukraine and the former republics with a residence in Moscow; 1999 to 2004 was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Tunisia to the Court of Saint James (United Kingdom) jointly accredited to the Republic of Irelandnd, residing in London. In the framework of the Middle East Peace Process, he, at the request of the Palestinian side, led Tunisia's Bureau of Interests in Tel Aviv (1996-1997). He also worked as a Counsellor at the embassies in Seoul, Moscow and New Delhi.

- Your Excellency, what is the outcome of your visit to Sofia, which happened two decades after the last at Foreign Ministers' level?

- As you said a Minister of Foreign Affairs has not been here for two decades, but there have been other visits of ministers, chairpersons of mixed committees. Unfortunately, a Foreign Minister of Tunisia has not been to Bulgaria for 23 years. This is not because the relations between our countries are not good - they are excellent, we have been having diplomatic cooperation for 60 years. The establishment of our diplomatic relations takes place exactly three months after our independence was declared. Unfortunately, due to the revolution and the development of the internal environment in Tunisia, as well as the transition that Bulgaria experienced, our relations have been a bit slowed down. The purpose of my visit is to re-establish the friendship that has always existed, to show our Bulgarian friends that today's Tunis is on the road to democracy and wants to strengthen and deepen the cooperation with its friend Bulgaria.

The review of the visit is extremely positive. I had a wonderful conversation with President Rumen Radev, who accepted me very well and assured that Bulgaria also wants to deepen the co-operation with Tunisia. He showed that he perfectly understands the difficulties of a political transition and that we can rely on your country's support not only on a bilateral level but also within the EU.

After the meeting with the head of state, I had an almost three-hour conversation with my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, Ekaterina Zaharieva. This allowed us to review our bilateral relations and to express once again our common desire to deepen them both at the political level and at the level of cooperation.

- Were there any specific decisions made?

- We decided to convene the 15th Session of the Joint Economic Commission in the first half of 2019; it will meet in Tunisia where decision makers from different sectors will be able to explore the opportunities for partnership and cooperation between the two countries.

We also decided to organize a meeting in January 2019 for the preparation of this session. A Tunisian delegation, headed by the Foreign Ministry, composed of representatives of various departments, will come here to Sofia to identify sectors of mutual interest.

With Ekaterina Zaharieva we also talked about the importance of the relations between Tunisia and the EU. You know, Tunisia was the first country to sign the EU association treaty in 1995. It was the first to join the so-called European Neighborhood Policy and, since 2012, it enjoys the status of a privileged partner of the EU. Bulgaria, which has just completed the presidency of the Council of the EU, has promised to be a "spokesman" of Tunisia to the European Commission. EU is not only our first partner - 80% of our  trade flow is with the EU but is also a model our country wants to follow in terms of consolidating the democratic process.

Besides the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I had a conversation with the Minister of Agriculture, with whom I discussed the possibilities for cooperation in the field of agriculture and the food industry. I also met with the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly; that allowed me to explain the important steps Tunisia is making in terms of strengthening the democratic process and the security and economic challenges which it is facing right now, but which it has to overcome.

- What is the perspective for Tunisia now when the country successfully undergoes democratic changes?

- The perspective is to turn Tunisia into a democratic country, modern and open to the outside world; to turn it into an economic platform that has all the ingredients needed to become a developed country within North Africa. You know that for 60 years Tunisia has been making fundamental choices for itself, unique to the region. It introduced compulsory and free education for boys and girls up to the age of 16, allowing it from a country without many natural resources to become a country rich in human resources. Another fundamental choice made by Tunisia is the equality between men and women and the emancipation of women. These are the two basic conditions that allowed our country to successfully make its democratic transition: a high level of education and a free society in which the woman and the man are equal. So the perspective is to strengthen this democracy, to show the world that an Arab Muslim state can also be democratic by imposing universal values ​​and that Islam is not opposed to democracy.

- The impression is that Tunisia is a peaceful and stable country. While the situation east of you, in Libya, is tense and complex. How can Tunisia and the international community help to overcome the crisis in this country?

- The question is quite complicated. For Tunisia, Libya is a very important country. We have 540 km of common border. The security of Tunisia, its economic development and the success of its democratic process are related to the security of Libya. That is why we, as a country that has historical and human ties to Libya, are doing everything we can to help our Libyan brothers get out of the crisis.

Our President of the Republic, Beji Caid Essebsi, launched an initiative to accelerate the political resolution of the Libyan crisis in December 2016. It is based on the following principles: to preserve Libya's territorial integrity; to decide on reconciliation between the Libyans themselves within the country; to avoid any military decisions; the process of solving the Libyan issue should be under UN monitoring. We included Algeria and Egypt in the initiative. Why Algeria and Egypt? Because these are two countries that have common borders with Libya and have an interest the country to be saved from disintegration. So we work, the three countries together, to help the Special Envoy to the General Secretary of the UN to advance the conflict resolution plan. The UN Regulation provides three stages of action. To establish a legal framework, an election code and constitutional text, to organize elections in Libya in order to allow the Libyans themselves to choose their representatives and to bring together all the layers of the Libyan society around the negotiating table in order to restore stability in the country.

- The Libyan crisis is part of the situation in the Middle East. What approach shall be put in place in order to bring peace to the region as soon as possible? People are killed, economies are being destroyed, there is migration....

- Unfortunately, what happened in Syria, as well as what happened in Libya, is not a revolution. These are attacks against the regime that is in power. And the strategy for stabilizing these countries and getting out of the crisis is what I said before about Libya. The approach can also be applied to Syria. The way out of the crisis is by no means through violence. It cannot be done by military force either. People have to sit around a table and negotiate, state their problems and try to present the issues and opportunities to solve them from an international perspective.

- Migration is one of the biggest problems in Europe. The migration wave is a result of the crises in the region, but also of the situation in the countries south of you. People pass through different routes but the ultimate goal is Europe. How can the migration management problem be solved?

Migration is to some extent a natural phenomenon that has always existed and will continue to exist. There are great nations in this world that have been created thanks to these processes. So I think this problem should not be overexposed. What needs to be done is to help countries that are providers of migration - Libya, Syria, the Sub-Saharan Africa, settle their conflicts. Because these people, most of them young, who leave the conflict zones, have their legitimate right to seek salvation. And they, being put in a difficult social situation, looking for a better life try to come to Europe. This is natural. And instead of letting them cross the Mediterranean Sea, risking their lives and dying, we should try to help them stay home, giving them opportunities to work. There are two categories of migration - illegal and legitimate. Every country, including Tunisia, has to defend its borders from illegal migration by trying not to let anyone cross them. But legal migration should be supported; as Europe also needs workforce.

- Since 1977 many Bulgarian doctors, architects, university lecturers have worked and are still working for the development of your country as part of our cooperation. Many of them have been naturalized, others have returned. How is their status regulated - economically and socially?

- For those who have become Tunisians, their situation is as it is for us all. But for the others who came back to Bulgaria - a number of teachers, engineers, and others who were mostly sent by the former "Technoimpex" and worked on contracts through it, there is a problem.  "Technoimpex" has disappeared. We talked about this with Ms. Ekaterina Zaharieva and we will find a legal opportunity to settle the status of these people as we very much value what they did for Tunisia.

Photo: Press Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria

Khemaies Jhinaoui, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Tunisian Republic, and Ms. Ekaterina Zaharieva, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria