Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (R-L) hold trilateral talks in Tehran on November 1, 2017
On August 8, 2017, the Presidents of the three neighboring and friendly countries of Iran, Russia, and Azerbaijan started a new geopolitical project in Baku, the capital of the Azerbaijan Republic, and lay the foundation of a new regional cooperation format.
As was mentioned then, this was a historical event that meant the opening of a new page for cooperation between the three countries. Now, the second meeting between the Presidents of the Azerbaijan Republic, Iran, and Russia is being held in Tehran. This in itself indicates that the mentioned format was not a tactical step and the presidents of the three countries have the political will to continue and develop this format, which is of great international importance and potential.
In recent years, the Azerbaijan Republic has given special importance to the formats of tripartite cooperation in its foreign policy along with bilateral relations. For example, we can mention the triangles of Azerbaijan-Iran-Turkey and Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey. The Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia triangle is one of the most successful and most important of these cooperation formats. As emphasized by the Presidents of Iran and Russia at the Baku session, this project was started by the President of Azerbaijan, a country that is a kind of link connecting Iran and Russia.
Of course, the appearance of such an important cooperation format originates from the highest levels of bilateral relations between the mentioned countries. It is not accidental that bilateral meetings between the three presidents took place in the framework of the Baku session, and the same will certainly happen in Tehran. Clearly, the bilateral Azerbaijan- Russia and Azerbaijan-Iran relations have steadily expanded in recent years. We are also witnessing a rapid growth in relations between Iran and Russia. Especially, the unprecedented development of relations between Azerbaijan and Iran has occurred in the Post-JCPOA era, and during the past two years the volume of trade between the two countries has almost doubled. Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan also effectively cooperate in international organizations including the United Nations and support each other in these organizations.
Azerbaijan opposed the international sanctions imposed on Iran and Russia and publicly stated its position in this relation. All these factors have led to the appearance of a new level of cooperation.
The main axis of this tripartite cooperation is the creation of the International North-South Transport Corridor, a transnational strategic project that guarantees the economic benefits and security of all three countries.
This 7,200-kilometer long North-South Transport Corridor, which is considered a rival of the Suez Canal, will connect Iran to Russia and northern Europe and, at the same time, its realization will give Azerbaijan and Russia access to the Persian Gulf and to international waters.
Many attempts were made in the past to create this North-South Corridor. Serious steps for connecting Azerbaijan and Iran railways have been taken. An 8.3km long railway was built between the Astara Station in Azerbaijan to the border with Iran, and the 82.5-meter high bridge over the Astara River has become operational. The Astara (Azerbaijan)-Astara (Iran) railway will start running soon. It is expected that the Ghazvin-Rasht railway line will be completed in the near future, and attempts have been made to build the Rasht-Astara railway line including the agreement for Azerbaijan to advance a 500 million dollar credit line for this project. Certainly, discussions will take place and decisions will be made to speed up work on this project at the session held in Tehran.
It must be mentioned that, in addition to the North-South Corridor, several important transport projects have been executed in the region recently. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line was inaugurated on 30 October. Before that, the Kazakhstan -Turkmenistan-Iran started operating. These projects will change the landscape of the region considerably and, in addition to substantial economic advantages, will pave the way for serious convergence processes. Azerbaijan and Iran will thus turn into transport hubs of international importance in the region. In this relation, new opportunities have arisen for cooperation between the two countries through establishing this South to West connection.
Of course, the tripartite Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia cooperation is not limited to transport and transit issues and the main areas of extensive cooperation between them are reflected in the final declaration signed by them in Baku. This cooperation can be summarized into two main fields: economic-commercial and political-security.
In relation to economic-commercial cooperation, the three countries have emphasized extension of comprehensive cooperation in the following areas based on equality and mutual benefits:
- Development of energy corridors for achieving economic growth in the region and international energy security
- Connection of the electricity grids in the three countries for exchanging electrical energy
- Development of regional and global natural gas markets and cooperation in the fields of extraction, transport, and delivery of natural gas
- Mutual protection and encouragement of investments
- Banking cooperation
- Absorption of new technologies
- Joint attempts at environmental protection
- Development of cultural and tourism relations
As for political-security cooperation, the three countries have declared their determination to cope with challenges and threats to the stability and security of the region. The top priorities are fighting:
- Terrorism in all its forms and appearances
- Religious extremism and Takfiri Movements
- Translational organized crime
- Arms and drugs trafficking
The important issue in this field of cooperation for Azerbaijan is the clear-cut positions of the three countries regarding regional conflicts: acknowledgement that unresolved conflicts are the main obstacle to regional cooperation and emphasis on their peaceful resolution based on international law. Therefore, Azerbaijan expects Iran and Russia to take practical measures for resolving the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh based on the principle of territorial integrity. Since the regional powers, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, clearly and definitively supported the territorial integrity of Iraq after the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan, and as Iran and Russia have good relations with Armenia, this expectation cannot be considered unfounded. The legal status of the Caspian Sea is another issue. During the last visit the President of Azerbaijan made to Iran, it was reported that the positions of Iran and Azerbaijan on this issue were converging. There is a special agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan regarding the Caspian Sea. We can hope that talks held in Tehran will achieve progress on this issue and, as emphasized in the Baku declaration, a convention is approved on the legal status of the Caspian Sea that will convert it into a sea of peace, friendship, and security and will allow more extensive cooperation between the countries bordering it.
During the approximately one year that has passed since the meeting between the Presidents of the three countries, some developments and changes have occurred in international and regional policies. The coming to power of a new president in the United States and the different policies adopted by him in relation to Iran, including the new sanctions imposed on Iran and Russia, the important events that have happened in the Middle East including the weakening of Daesh, the effective cooperation between Iran and Russia on Syria, the positive changes in the relations Russia and Iran have with Turkey (another important power in the region), etc. show that there are sufficient topics for discussion during the talks that will be held between the three Presidents in Iran.
However, one thing is already clear: the trends in the region and on the international scene that have appeared after the Baku meeting have indicated that the Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia triangle is a necessary and effective model for cooperation and a successful geopolitical step. At the same time, the importance of continuing and developing this cooperation has become clear because the main purpose of this format is to guarantee peace, stability, security, and economic development in the region.
Mesiaga Mehemmedi, a PhD in Philosophy, is the senior research fellow at Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan
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