Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan Trilateral Meeting

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Baku Attaching More Importance to Regional Issues in its Foreign Policy

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

Iran, Russia and the Republic of Azerbaijan held a trilateral meeting in the Azeri capital city of Baku on August 7. The meeting’s agenda included, among other things, such important issues as the North-South Corridor, the legal regime of the Caspian Sea, the situation in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, and the common fight against terrorism. Regardless of the extent to which joint decisions made on these issues would be realized, the meeting per se can be considered as a sign of regionalist approach taken by these countries as well as Azerbaijan's move from following a balanced policy between East and West to attaching more importance to regionalism.

During early years after its independence – that is, under the rule of former president, Ayaz Mutallibov, and former acting president, Yagub Mammadov – the Republic of Azerbaijan was still under effective control of Russia. However, when Abulfaz Elchibey became Azerbaijan's president, the country withdrew from membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States and showed a major tendency toward the United States and Turkey. Later on, at the height of the war in Karabakh and occupation of more lands by Armenians, the West did not help the Republic of Azerbaijan. As a result, after the fall of Elchibey’s government, Heydar Aliyev, the seasoned politician of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, came to power while following a foreign policy, which observed a balance between the West – mostly the United States, Europe and Turkey – and the East – including Russia and Iran.

Of course, Heydar Aliyev showed more liking for the Western axis at times and after him, his successor, Ilham Aliyev, steered the country’s foreign policy along the same lines. However, the inefficiency of Western institutions in restoring the rights of the Republic of Azerbaijan, on the one hand, and the key role played by such regional countries as Russia and Iran, on the other hand, have become more evident for Azerbaijan. As a result, Azeri statesmen now believe that their interests will be better met through establishment of strong relations with these regional countries and participation of Baku in such important projects as the North-South Corridor is evidence to this fact. In addition, some positions adopted by the United States on domestic issues of the Republic of Azerbaijan and also on issues related to the Caucasus region have caused widespread dissatisfaction among Azeri officials and created a relatively cold atmosphere between the two countries’ politicians.

Of course, it must be noted that the foreign policy approaches adopted by Iran and Russia were influential in changing Baku’s foreign policy approach, according to which it currently attaches more importance to regional issues in its foreign policy. Despite the fact that Russia has been in control of most security and military structures in Armenia and has made this country its backyard in South Caucasus, with regard to the dispute in Karabakh and unlike Moscow’s policy during the years that war was raging, Kremlin has been trying to maintain active neutrality and has made no effort to make the Republic of Azerbaijan accept any conditions for the settlement of Karabakh dispute. On the other hand, Iran was accused by some Azeri and Turkish-speaking circles of taking sides with Armenia in Karabakh. However, during the latest round of conflicts in Karabakh in April 2016, use of an active diplomacy aimed at preventing degradation of this conflict into a full-fledged war and the emphasis put by officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the need to maintain territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan cast serious doubt on all those accusations and this issue will, undoubtedly, work to make Baku want get closer to Tehran.

Among major items on the agenda of the trilateral meeting in Baku, the next session of which is to be held in Tehran, the issue of the North-South Corridor was of utmost importance. Since their economic structures are similar as they have national economies based on oil and gas production, and in view of the fact that they produce similar products, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia cannot be considered as being economically complementary. This issue can be an obstacle preventing further increase in economic exchanges among these countries. However, the huge North-South Corridor project will not only facilitate exchange of commodities among these countries, but can also help them send their products to foreign markets, thus doing away with this problem. Of course, if a country like Turkey, whose economy is complementary to economies of these three countries and can also serve as a transit corridor, entered this project, the result would be increased synergism among all these countries.

Key WordsIran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Trilateral Meeting, Baku Regional Issues, Foreign Policy, North-South Corridor, Legal Regime, Caspian Sea, Nagorno-Karabakh, Terrorism, Heydar Aliyev, Abulfaz Elchibey, United States, Europe, Turkey, Caucasus, Armenia, Vahedi

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*Photo Credit: Press TV