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We and Iran: a Factor of the Permanent Value

By Rouben MEGHRABYAN
Armenian Center for Political and International studies
Yerevan 

Iran’s neighbourhood with the South Caucasus dates back to the start of the history known to mankind, which cannot be said about Russia and Turkey. Iran’s border with the region has not been changed since the Russian-Persian war of 1826-1828, it has not waged wars beyond its borders or displayed military ambitions, which also cannot be said about the two mentioned countries.

Despite Iran’s well-known big problems with the international community, which has put it on the list of the countries with extremely negative reputation, it’s influence on the regional security and stability in the South Caucasus is assessed by the very countries of the region, such major off-regional actors as USA, EU, Russia, Turkey either positively or neutrally, but not negatively at all.

In its declarations, the official Iranian diplomacy, as well as individual officials have touched upon the regional problems in the marked restrained, balanced manner, maintaining the non-interference principle and positioning themselves as a side, concerned with the equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries of the region. In general the practice has not been at variance with declaration for almost 20 years.

In the last 20 years the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been substantially aggravated. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Caucasian direction in the Iranian diplomacy has acquired a substantial importance, intersecting the quite often colliding interests of the main actors  in the region, but Iran succeeds in keeping the balance and avoid conflicts in such a maze. There is also an important element in the fact that while Armenia and Azerbaijan are in a serious conflict, Iran managed to keep the “median line” and to get understanding and respect for its position among the parties to the conflict. Iran refrains from the Islamic factor in the region, unlike the other regions.

The following are considered as important elements of the Iranian interests in the region:

- maintaining stability and the balance of forces, keeping steady, friendly, but not any binding relations with the countries of the region, seen as quite a good market, and at the same time strengthening its own role and authority,

- preserving the current status quo, which suits Iran, preventing from its drastic changes, especially if it might lead to strengthening of other external actors, to say nothing of the emergence of their troops in any form, including as peace-keepers,

- engaging into the regional projects as far as possible, especially the energy and transport projects, as well as aiming at the diplomatic engagement into the mediation activity for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, the main conflict in the region,

- the fact that Iran does not consider the Russian presence in the region in its current form as a source of a threat to its security; to the contrary, it is seen as a decisive factor of containment of the political influence of the western society on its north-western borders.

The Armenian-Iranian relations are not only an important component part of Iran’s relations with the region, but they have their special value as such, and this perception is shared by both sides in their political circles and public opinion. The most important aspects of the Armenian-Iranian relations are the following:

- the lack of political problems between them, the absence of negative stereotypes of perception or negative expectations, practical non-interference into the internal affairs of each other, the marked restraint while the domestic political situations are aggravated, mutual understanding and respect of the political interests and courses,

- understanding by the western community that such an Armenian-Iranian modus vivendi is inevitable, that it is something not aimed against the West, its interests and values,

- Russia’s positive attitude to the Armenian-Iranian ties, if they do not “cross” the Russian interests, especially energetic ones, and Russia is able to monitor almost the whole spectrum of the Armenian-Iranian ties (Russian border-guards in Meghri, the passport control at the airport, the economical and military presence in Armenia),

- the jealous attitude of Azerbaijan to the Armenian-Iranian relations, its periodical reproaches to Iran for pro-Armenian moods, Tehran’s “insufficient principle stand” concerning the Karabakh conflict, even help to “the aggressor,” as far as it has not displayed solidarity with Azerbaijan and blocked Armenia, as Turkey has,

- the traditional  competitive relations with Turkey in the region, and in the recent time, the same with Azerbaijan.

Thus, Armenia’s and Iran’s intention to get closer becomes more logical and natural.

Both sides are trying to enlarge and deepen their relations, which can be explained by the link-up of their interests:

- for Armenia – opening opportunities in the region of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea with the access to the Asian markets, and for Iran – to the region of the Black Sea with the access to European markets,

- in opening the opportunities for other actors, aiming at changes in the energy-transport configurations of the region.

Development and deepening of the Armenian-Iranian relations may face the following obstacles:

- Iran’s problems with the international community, especially with the United States, making the energy and transport projects with Iran almost “out of law;” the shortage of investments, the embargo on the technologies related to the Iranian energetic field,

- the tough protectionist nature of the Iranian economical policy, the oligarchic-monopolistic nature of the Armenian economy,

- the preserving Russian dominating influence, aimed, among other things, at limiting the possibilities of Iran in the region (the well-known story with the reduction of the diameter of the Iranian gas pipeline to Armenia is a striking example of that) as a competitor in delivery of oil and gas,

- as it has been mentioned above, the jealous attitude of Azerbaijan concerning the unresolved Karabakh conflict, which definitely limits the scales of the cooperation.

The recent attempts of Iran for mediation in the Karabakh peace process are not unprecedented. Since 1992 Iran has periodically made such initiatives, always getting positive reaction of the parties to the conflict. However, with the exception of the fact that trilateral talks took place in Tehran in 1992, the Iranian initiatives had no success, so it is impossible to speak about the possibility of their practical realization.

Taking into account the above-mentioned considerations and some other factors, the following expectations and perspectives are outlined in the Armenian-Iranian relations:

- Iran’s energy potential allows to compete with the Russian projects and those, bypassing Russia, and such projects have already been elaborated; meanwhile the potential transit through Armenia and Georgia to the Black Sea can level the Russian economical and political influence and Turkish ambitions in the region, and as a result, their energy and transit  influence on the European Union,

- the hard-line authoritarian regime in Iran can have some “orange” fears, if the internal political developments in Armenia lead to the liberalization processes, and as a result to strengthening positions of the European Union and the United States,

- same in Armenia: the changes of the regime in Iran (or its possibility, as it was in June 2009) can change the external conditions for the existence of the regime in Armenia, and to reduce the role of Russia,

- acquisition of the nuclear technologies by Iran, allowing it to get the leading role in the Islamic world, can destabilize the international relations and change the whole paradigm of the Iranian foreign policy, but it seems more probable that the Armenian-Iranian relations, unlike others, would not undergo any special changes. As for now, there are no grounds, no potential for their worsening. Even more, the Armenian-Iranian relations more than once presented by the official Tehran as a “model for the states, belonging to different confessions  and having different sizes,” especially during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency.

Such rhetoric can be in demand soon again.