Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L-R back) give a joint news conference following their trilateral talks
A recent visit to Iran by presidents of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan proved that the three countries are resolute and determined to form a new model of trilateral regional cooperation. During a visit to Iran by the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in 2015, the presidents of Iran and Azerbaijan reached the conclusion that they must hold a meeting attended by the Russian president. This decision opened a new chapter in the foreign relations of the three aforesaid countries. The first meeting of presidents from three countries of Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan was held in August 2016 in the Azeri capital city of Baku. During that tripartite meeting among the three countries’ presidents, negotiations were held on Iran’s transit hub and the North-South Transportation Corridor. The corridor, which is 7,200 kilometers long, connects Iran to Russia and Georgia as well as countries in Eastern and Northern Europe through the Republic of Azerbaijan, on the one hand. On the other hand, it connects Iran to India and littoral states of the Persian Gulf. According to early estimates, a total of five million tons of goods is to be transported through this corridor, which will be increased to ten million tons in the near future.
Explaining about this project, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said, “With its potential to grow up to one trillion dollars over the next twenty years, the Iranian economy can be considered as one of the most promising emerging economies of the world.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, assessed the tripartite meeting as positive, noting, “Russia considers no limitation for the development of relations with Iran.”
In the meantime, Ilham Aliyev, the president of the Republic of Azerbaijan, believed that the trilateral meeting would pave the way for connecting the three countries through infrastructural and economic projects. He said, “Azerbaijan has completed its rail network and the Azeri part of the North-South Transportation Corridor is fully ready to come on-stream.
Tehran, Moscow and Negotiations beyond the North-South Transportation Corridor
While covering news related to Putin’s visit to Iran, regional and transregional media outlets emphasized that the visit was aimed at holding the trilateral meeting among the presidents of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. However, other issues like the situation in Syria, various crises in the Middle East, the role of Iran and Russia in Afghanistan, the cases of Yemen and Iraq, Tehran's frozen relations with Riyadh, the outcome of Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in the field of energy, and the issue of the global oil prices were also discussed during negotiations between Tehran and Moscow. However, the main topic of the two countries’ consultations was the North-South Transportation Corridor. Of course, some circles in the United States have accused Russia of intervention in the country’s latest presidential election and have noted that Moscow had taken sides with US President Donald Trump in that election. However, in spite of his primarily positive stances on Russia, Trump was later forced to give the green light to imposition of sanctions on Russia. Trump’s anti-Iran positions are also evident to all.
Therefore, all these conditions encourage Tehran and Moscow to form a single front, especially taking into account that Russia has made no effort to interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs. Dmitri Trenin, a Russian analyst, has opined in this regard that the nature of the ruling system in Iran is of no importance to Russia, because Moscow needs good relations with Tehran at all times.
Economy, Azerbaijan’s main priority in trilateral cooperation
For the Azeri side, economic aspects of trilateral cooperation are of high importance. Therefore, the foreign minister of Azerbaijan has been quoted as saying that his country is even ready to give Iran a remarkable loan in order to complete unfinished parts of the two countries’ joint railroad. The two countries’ ministers of economic affairs have recently negotiated conditions for that loan through talks in Baku.
Avoiding an absolute approach and rationalization of relations
From the viewpoint of Israel, presence of Russian and Azeri presidents in Iran is an unfavorable development. This comes despite the fact that both Russia and Azerbaijan have cordial relations with Tel Aviv. While Tehran tolerates relations that Moscow and Baku have with Tel Aviv, Azerbaijan, for its turn, has raised no objection to development of relations between Iran and Armenia, which proves that the two countries’ ties are moving along a rational line.
Outcomes of continued trilateral cooperation
The speed at which decisions made by the three countries’ leaders were followed up was a telltale sign of the importance of trilateral cooperation among Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan. This cooperation can have very important outcomes some of which include:
1. Maturity of the foreign policy of regional countries has helped trilateral cooperation to develop among Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan or among Iran, Russia and Turkey amid bloody upheavals in the region. At the same time, that maturity has helped the governments of Iran, Turkey and Iraq to adopt a similar stance on the issue of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Out of these examples, the first instance of trilateral cooperation will be able to change geopolitics of the region and even the world, if it is realized in a suitable manner. The second example (trilateral cooperation among Iran, Russia and Turkey) managed to put an end to the war in Syria, while the third example prevented a crisis, which could have been much more destructive than the crisis in Syria, from unraveling in Iraq. As a result of all three examples, covert plans made by the United States and Israel aimed at forming new structure of the Middle East were thwarted.
2. Completion of the North-South Transportation Corridor will free the economy of the world, especially that of regional countries, from dependence on such crisis-ridden routes as Bab-el-Mandeb, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, and will also reduce the influence of the United States on Asian and European economies.
3. Trilateral and other forms of multilateral cooperation have led to synergy among the national powers of various countries and in doing so have helped dismantle terrorist and extremist groups across the region. This is true, because when economic interests of countries are at stake, they join hands to make trade routes secure.
4. It must be noted that the North-South Transportation Corridor is a serious rival for bilateral cooperation between China and Pakistan or the nascent Mediterranean cooperation among the Israel, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. Therefore, it may prompt other countries to take obstructionist measures in other fields in the future. However, advantages of this corridor for connecting India’s huge economy to Eurasia and Europe; the potential it provides for taking advantage of natural resources in various previously-ignored geographical regions, like rich mineral resources in Afghanistan and Central Asia; and Iran’s unique transit position along the country’s southeastern coasts will cause global investment to be channeled toward this corridor despite all opposition.
© Abrar Moaser Tehran
Elias Vahedi, a researcher on Azerbaijan affairs, is the non-resident fellow at Abrar Moaser Tehran Institute
To comment on this article, please contact IRAS Editorial Board