EUROPEOPINION

Azerbaijan and Iran: an overview of bilateral dialogue and cooperation

By Peter Tase

President Ilham Aliyev, in his official note sent on August, 2013, to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on the occasion of his election as Iran’s head of state; the Azerbaijani leader notes that he considers with “great importance the relations between Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which are strengthened by the will of our peoples who have historically lived in the conditions of good-neighborhood relations and friendship. [Azerbaijan and Iran] share common spiritual values and traditions, mutual trust and confidence, which have stood the test of time.”  These fraternal relations between both countries have constantly been considered as fundamental in the respective foreign policy strategies of Baku and Tehran.

Since its declaration of independence on October 18, 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan has showed a keen interest towards establishing a closer strategic cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, the independence of Azerbaijan was recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran in December 25th, 1991 and bilateral diplomatic relations were established in March 12th, 1992.

In 1969, was inaugurated in Baku the first Iranian consulate, which later became an embassy in 1992. During the presidency of Heydar Aliyev, 1993-2003, the government of Azerbaijan has made every effort to strengthen its economic, trade and strategic relations with its southern neighbor, Islamic Republic of Iran.  The two – days official visit to Baku, by the Honorable Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian President (October 26-28, 1993), marked the beginning of a new era of partnership between both countries.

In the following year (June 29-July 2, 1994), Heydar Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, visited Tehran and addressed a number imminent items in the bilateral agenda, such as the regional economic development, infrastructure improvement on the energy sector, ambitious environment initiatives for the Caspian Sea area, and bolstering of cultural ties.  President Heydar Aliyev, as the visionary leader of a well-developed Azerbaijan, has been very active in regional diplomacy, and economic integration projects that were beneficial to his countrymen and the Caspian Sea region.  President Aliyev’s visit to Iran in May 12-13, 1996, marked the inauguration of the Sarakhs – Tejan railway, this was the first phase of a regional infrastructure project that would connect Iran’s northern city of Mianeh, to Astara and continue straight to Baku and from Azerbaijan’s capital city, it would connect with the Russian railway system. Upon its completion this route would become the shortest route between Moscow and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. [1]

On December 8-11, 1997, President Heydar Aliyev embarked on his second official visit to Iran, to attend the 8th Summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference.  During this visit he had the opportunity to emphasize again the high level of importance that the relations with Iran have in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy.  Almost three years later, on June 9th 2000, President Heydar Aliyev conducted his third visit to Iran, under the framework of the 6th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization.

On May 18-20, 2002, the Azerbaijani head of state, Heydar Aliyev visited Tehran and met with the Iranian national leaders and key players of the Consultative Assembly of Iran.  In August 5-7, 2004, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami visited Baku where he met with President Aliyev, and member of Azerbaijan’s government.  President Khatami’s meetings, were followed by a very successful visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Tehran in January 24-26, 2005.   Just like his father, President Ilham Aliyev has reinvigorated the dynamic relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, particularly in economic relations, trade, and improvement of transportation infrastructure, culture and commercial ties.  In late December 2005, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad visited the region of Nakhchivan of Azerbaijan. In May 2006, President Ahmedinejad, paid a working visit to Baku where he attended the 9th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization.  In August, 2007, Iranian president visited Baku for two days.  He was welcomed by President Aliyev with high honors and discussed many pending issues on the bilateral agenda.  In October 16, 2007, President Ilham Aliyev paid a working visit to Iran, in order to attend the second Summit of the Heads of States of the Caspian littoral countries.  Two years later, in March 10, 2009, the Azerbaijan head of state traveled to Iran and had a warm meeting with President Ahmedinejad.  In November 2010, President Ahmedinejad visited Baku again to meet with the leaders of the countries that surround the Caspian Sea.  In this occasion, Ahmadinejad met with the leader of Azerbaijan and the other four nations to find a solution on the administration of the disputed Caspian Sea region, rich with natural gas and oil. [2]

According to the Caspian Research Institute (CRI), under President Ahmedinejad’s term in office, Iran had established a “strategic relationship” with Armenia; its analysts believe that this situation will not entirely change under President Rouhani’s government, since the supreme leader has a significant influence on the implementation of the foreign policy.  However, Rouhani has qualified the current relations between Tehran and Baku as “based on friendship and mutual trust”.  According to Mohsen Pak Ayeen the Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan the ppartnership would be “very brilliant” under Rouhani. In the meantime Ambassador Javanshir Akhundov, Baku’s chief diplomat in Tehran, praised his countries warm relations with Tehran.  Additionally, in August 2013, Ogtay Asadov the Speaker of Azerbaijan’s Parliament attended the inauguration ceremony of President Rouhani. [3]

According to CRI both nations, since last year, have agreed “to cooperate on filling the drying Lake Urmia,”with river water from Azerbaijan. This natural conservation site is located in an Azerbaijani-populated area in Iran’s territory. [4]

Azerbaijan has earned a great reputation, not only as a stable and flourishing economy but also in its strategic role towards the expansion of oil and natural gas supply to the rest of the world and particularly Western Europe.  With European Union’s recent high demand for oil and gas, Azerbaijan, is expected to emerge as the major provided of natural gas to European countries, even though the current pipeline construction may pose additional challenges that were not anticipated.

President Ahmedinejad paid an additional visit to Baku, in October 15, 2012, to attend the 12th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization.

On January 23 2014, in their participation to World Economic Forum, Davos, president Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had a warm meeting during which they stressed the importance of cooperation and friendly relations.  Both countries are eager to expand the cooperation in the field of politics, economy, energy infrastructure and culture. [5]

The frequent official meetings between the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Iran have played an important role and brought a significant dimension towards strengthening the bilateral partnership in many sectors.  Since 1991, for more than twenty four years, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministers have met with their Iranian counterparts in more than twenty two occasions.  Dialogue and bilateral cooperation in the regional and multilateral organizations has brought both countries into the limelight for their desires to intensify economic integration in the Caspian Littoral region. [6]

The most recent meeting at the ministerial level was held in Baku, on March 13, 2014.  Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov welcomed Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ambassador Ebrahim Rahimpour.  According to the official announcement of Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan “both parties expressed satisfaction with the current level of cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Islamic Republic of Iran.”  The two diplomatic chiefs shared their ideas and suggestions on how to further shape the economic and trade partnership, transborder transportation infrastructure, as well as reach new heights in the education and cultural exchange programs.  The legal status of the Caspian Sea was another significant item discussed.

Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov expressed his confidence that the Trilateral Meeting of March 14, between Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey, “contribute[d] to [advancing] the cooperation between [the three]  countries.”  Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour stressed “the strategic importance of the Republic of Azerbaijan” he also visited Nakhchivan and met with local community leaders.

The agression of Armenian forces against the Republic of Azerbaijan and its population, was also on the meeting agenda.  According to a press release of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, “Foreign Minister Mammadyarov underlined that withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and return of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons to their historical lands will contribute to the peace process and thus, will strengthen peace, stability and security in the region.” [7]

References:

[1] http://www.azembassy.ir/pages.php?id_menu=321

[2] http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62353

[3] http://caspianresearch.com/2013/08/04/azerbaijan-iran-relations-under-the-rouhani-presidency/

[4] http://caspianresearch.com/2013/08/04/azerbaijan-iran-relations-under-the-rouhani-presidency/

[5] http://en.president.az/articles/10887

[6] http://www.mfa.gov.az/index.php?options=news&id=13&news_id=2243&language=en

[7] http://www.mfa.gov.az/index.php?options=news&id=13&news_id=2243&language=en

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Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a contributor, freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Affairs, Paraguayan Studies, Middle East Studies and Latin American Affairs, located in the United States. Educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government; Tase is the author of “Simultaneous Dictionary in Five Languages: Guarani, English, Italian, Albanian and Spanish” and “El Dr. FEDERICO FRANCO y Su Mandato Presidencial en la Historia del Paraguay.” He’s a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News. His personal website is www.petertase.com

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