Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Future Roadmap for Caucasus

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tehran, Ankara, Baku emphasize further deepening of trilateral cooperation

Interview with Firouz Dowlatabadi, Iran's Former Ambassador to Turkey

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met and conferred with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting among Iran, Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan in the Turkish city of Van. According to a report by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, during the meeting, the two countries’ foreign ministers discussed important issues related to bilateral relations between Tehran and Baku including diplomatic exchanges between the two countries’ high-ranking officials, the joint commission for bilateral cooperation, Tehran-Baku cooperation in the Caspian Sea region, considering facilities for exchanges between the two countries people, promoting cooperation in cultural fields, as well as further cooperation in the fields of energy and transportation. The meeting was important in that Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan are among the most important countries in the region and after the inauguration of the new Iranian administration the two sides have indicated their strong resolve for further expansion of bilateral relations in all fields. In addition, under present circumstances when the Central Asia and Eurasia are going through dire straits as a result of the existing tensions in these regions, expansion of relations between Iran – which enjoys a high grade of political and security stability – and other regional countries can promise a better future outlook for these geographically important regions. These issues have been discussed in the following interview with Firouz Dowlatabadi, the former Iranian ambassador to Turkey and an analyst of Caucasus issues.

Q: [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif has met and conferred with Elmar Mammadyarov and Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Turkey, during his recent trip to Turkey. In view of the fact that such trilateral meetings among Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan are rare and in the light of the existing challenges among these three countries, how important, do you think, this meeting is?

A: This meeting is very important from various viewpoints. This meeting has taken place after the lapse of many years; 16 years to be exact. We have seldom seen a trilateral meeting among Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan and this meeting is of very high importance. Another significant point here is the existence of common interests among Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan. However, during recent years, there have been differences among the three countries in such areas as foreign policy and national security. The main problem is not simply about differences between Iran and Azerbaijan or the issue of Syria, which has been overshadowing relations between Iran and Turkey in the past few years. Measures taken by certain countries, including Armenia, in recent years, have stirred concerns in Turkey and prompted it to gradually distance from Azerbaijan. Of course, there is a list of other issues which can be added to the aforesaid challenges. Turkish businesspeople have been facing problems in Azerbaijan which has further escalated tensions between the two countries. Of course, such issues may not be very important in essence, but a lot of emphasis has been put on them by foreign policy officials of the three countries. As a result, such meetings can pave the way for the improvement of trilateral relations and also affect the situation in Caucasus region. In view of the friendly atmosphere that has governed the meeting I hope it would be followed with favorable outcomes for three neighboring countries by promoting trilateral regional cooperation among them.

Q: During this meeting, the Turkish foreign minister has expressed concern about what is going on in Syria. On the other hand, Azerbaijan has sometimes accused Iran of what it describes as Iran's interference in that country’s internal affairs. How Iran could possibly allay the concerns of Turkey and Azerbaijan as a prelude to improvement and further expansion of trilateral cooperation and relations?

A: Part of these concerns cannot be basically removed by Iran because they are not real. Every government may face challenges within its borders and with its own people and whenever they cannot find a decisive solution for those challenges, they attribute them to foreign interference. The remarks made by Azeri officials [about Iran's interference in their country’s internal affairs] are nothing new and have become a regular process during the past 30 years. Every time they have been facing acute problems inside their country, they have either adopted suppressive policies or tried to attribute their problems to foreign interference. Sometimes they accused Russia of interference in their internal affairs and in other occasions, they accused Iran. None of these allegations, however, are true. This is why none of the Iranian foreign policy officials take such allegations seriously. However, since those allegations are made and announced by official figures, Iran also takes an official stance on them by totally rejecting those allegations. Basically, Azerbaijan's position in this regard is not worth further discussion because it has become a regular issue and Azerbaijani officials have been constantly taking this position. As for Syria and Mr. Davutoglu’s remarks, it would suffice to say that Turkey’s policy in Syria has failed. Turkey’s policy was based on cooperation with very violent terrorist groups in Syria and the United States was also a party to that policy. It is now clear that Turkey’s policy on this very important issue has failed and they believe that the failure was a result of Iran's steadfast support for the government and people of Syria. As a result, they are discontent with Iran's policy and it is natural for them to express concern. I think this is not very important. It is natural in the foreign policy, especially in Western models, that when a very important development takes place on the sidelines of their foreign policy approaches, they usually make remarks to downplay the importance of what has happened. Especially in case of countries like Turkey and Azerbaijan, it is quite natural for them to try to show to the United States that their closeness with Iran and improvement of trilateral relations has not been anything serious or even important. However, we know that this has been a very important meeting.

Q: During the past eight years, Iran's foreign policy has been mostly oriented toward the Latin American countries and less attention has been paid to Caucasus region and Iran's northwestern neighbor [Azerbaijan]. Mr. Zarif’s trip to Turkey and his trilateral meeting shows renewed attention of Iran's foreign policy apparatus to this region. What opportunities await Iran in Caucasus region?

A: Caucasus is one of the most important regions in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In reality, increased political influence in Caucasus region will be translated into very secure influence in the area of the Black Sea in North Caucasus and in the Caspian Sea region. This is a very important geopolitical area for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic. Historically speaking, this region has been of very high significance in delineating the future outlook of Iran's relations with Europe as well as future oil and gas cooperation in the Caspian Sea and Caucasus regions. As a result, this is a very important region. However, during the past eight years the Iranian foreign policy was unfortunately devoid of a coherent and regular approach and this problem was not specific to Caucasus region alone. Mr. Zarif is currently making up for the past errors.

Q: Caucasus is also a major sphere of influence for Russia. As a result, further deepening of Iran's relations with countries in this region, including Azerbaijan, and holding of trilateral meetings may stir concerns among Russians about Iran's rising influence in this region. How, do you think, Iran will be able to allay Russia’s concerns in this regard while going on with its current effort to expand and deepen its cooperation with countries in Caucasus region?

A: It is true that Caucasus is under the influence of Russian policies, but the Islamic Republic of Iran's policies in this region have been also very effective because Iran's presence in Caucasus has its roots in history. In every corner of this region you can find the signs and symbols of the Iranian civilization or the Iranian – Islamic civilization. Profound cultural relations have existed between our country and Armenia and Georgia during the past decade. I think Caucasus is not simply a sphere of influence for Russia because Iran sway’s the same amount of influence in this region as Russia. In the meantime, we and Russians have a common enemy in this region, which is the United States and, to a lesser extent, the European countries. Just in the same way that Russia is a strategic counterweight to Europe, we are also a strategic counterweight to the United States in Caucasus. This equation has actually dispelled many bilateral concerns that may exist in the two countries and has paved the ground for more cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in this region. This is why we have never had a serious problem with Russians in this region during the past 20 years. I don’t think there is any reason to be concerned about this issue.

Key Words: Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Future Roadmap for Caucasus, Trilateral Cooperation, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Elmar Mammadyarov, Ahmet Davutoglu, Caspian Sea Region, Russia, Dowlatabadi

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs, TREND

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