By Fuad Huseinzadeh
Amid the historical proximity of the Azerbaijani and Iranian peoples, relations developed until recently between the two countries weren’t easy. The divergence in positions on regional security issues, the Caspian Sea problems, fundamental differences in the national foreign and domestic policy – all this periodically created problems between the two countries, which should have been the closest allies due to their historical and cultural similarities. For this reason, each contact between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Iran has been always perceived as a very significant event for the relations between the two neighboring countries.
Meanwhile the background to the official visit to Baku by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on November 12-13, inspired confidence – this visit is bound to succeed. The arrival of the Iranian president was a continuation of the unprecedented active contacts of the two presidents – before the current visit by Rouhani, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Iran had already had four personal meetings this year. In addition, the reformist internal and external policies of the current Iranian president, plus the success of the last summit of the Caspian states in Astrakhan, all participants of which reached what Tehran believes is a key agreement on preventing the presence of extra-regional countries in the Caspian Sea – all this created a favorable background for the upcoming Azerbaijani-Iranian talks in Baku.
As was expected, during the negotiations and their follow-up, President Rouhani and President Aliyev talked extensively about the intention to strengthen bilateral relations in the political, economic and cultural fields. “Our ties are strong, Iranian-Azerbaijani friendship is indestructible, and no external power can come between us. Our unity is necessary for the future of our country and the future of the region,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev underlined in a statement for the press later.
According to the presidents, at the meeting, the sides discussed issues of cooperation in energy, oil and gas, electricity, agriculture, banking and transit, including the implementation of the North-South transport corridor. They agreed to sign an agreement on the continuation of construction and further operation of waterworks and the Xudafarin and Qiz Qalasi hydroelectric power plants soon. The sides noted the importance of the bilateral intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the field of construction and operation of the Ordubad and Marazad hydroelectric power plants coming into force as soon as possible. In general, Aliyev noted, the parties discussed the prospects for the implementation of a large number of new bilateral-joint projects soon.
Caspian issues, regional security issues and the Middle East events were featured prominently in the talks. Noting that the region is now faced with a serious crisis such as the development of separatism, terrorism and radicalism, the presidents assured each other that they will not allow any outside forces to cause discord in relations between the two countries and damage the development of cooperation.
After the completion of the negotiations, the signing ceremony of documents covering cooperation in the fields of alternative and renewable sources of energy, economics and finance, postal sector, ICT and security of Border Rivers was held in the presence of the presidents. But the key document was a joint statement by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, which reflected the concerns of the two countries.
In particular, the two countries unanimously declared the inadmissibility of using acts of aggression and threats of violence in international relations and non-recognition of the violation of internationally recognized borders by force, and spoke out in favor of resolving conflicts on the basis of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. In view of the aforesaid, the parties reiterated the importance of peacefully settling the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict as soon as possible. The Iranian president stated that Tehran does not approve of the current situation in Nagorny-Karabakh and called for a solution to this issue through political means. Hassan Rouhani called it his duty to assist in resolving the conflict, since the Islamic Republic wants justice, peace, stability and friendship in this region.
In addition, taking the universally recognized norms and principles of international law as a basis, the parties reiterated their support for the right of all states, including Iran, to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the IAEA Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This point can be regarded as particularly important for Iran, as any vote in support for the development of its nuclear program is worth its weight in gold for Iran. Nor it was less important for the sides the agreement on the prevention of activities by organizations, groups and individuals whose actions are against the neighboring countries.
Among other important aspects of the joint statement, we should also note the parties’ agreement on the effective use of the potential of the United Nations in promoting international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking and transnational crime, as well as active support based on the tradition of tolerance and multiculturalism.
The business forum held on the second day of the visit with the participation of businessmen from the two countries only confirmed the commitment of the parties to the expansion of economic ties, implementation of joint projects and mutual investments.
As acknowledged by the Iranian president, the sides held detailed talks and came to an agreement to further develop bilateral relations and carry it out in a more open and transparent manner. It is necessary to intensify relations in the field of energy, trade, industry, construction of dams and power plants and in the development of new technologies, as this will contribute to the development of both countries. “We have extensive experience in constructing dams and power plants, creating infrastructure, and in laying roads and railways, and we can cooperate in these areas. We can work together – you can work in our country and we can work in your country. Thanks to mutual investment, we can create small towns near the border. We can arrange free economic zones along the border. We can extend links between border regions,” the president of Iran said.
At the same time, Rouhani expressed a desire to make better use of the common religion, beliefs, customs and traditions that lie at the basis of the unity of Iran and Azerbaijan. Along with that, the president noted that the rapprochement in relations between the Iranian and Azerbaijani peoples is not directed against third countries.
Rouhani stressed that the location of Azerbaijan and Iran allows them to play for each other the role of a bridge connecting Iran with Europe and Azerbaijan with the southern corridors. He added that Azerbaijan can connect Iran with the Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi. And Iran, in turn, will connect Azerbaijan to Bandar Abbas, Abadan and Khorramshahr. We can create broad cooperation in the trilateral format involving Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
Cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran is an objective necessity not only due to the historical and geographical proximity of the two states, but also their geopolitical significance. For Azerbaijan, Iran is a major power, positive relations with which will have the most favorable impact on security in the region, including the Nagornyy Karabakh problem and the legal status of the Caspian Sea.
For Iran, good-neighborly relations with Azerbaijan are equally important. Today, against the backdrop of significant progress in the negotiations on the “Iranian dossier”, the Western community is set to gradually relax the policy of sanctions against Iran, which makes it possible to reopen the window between this country and the West. This window could be Azerbaijan, for Iran cannot find a better way to Western countries among its neighbors. In addition, we must not forget that Iran is one of the world leaders in gas and oil reserves. The prospect of Western sanctions on Iran being lifted and the creation of opportunities for Azerbaijani-Iranian cooperation in energy exports will raise bilateral relations to the level of strategic ties.