Iran Should Not Ignore Central Asia, Caucasus

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hassan Beheshtipour

If Iran is to expand cooperation with the Central Asia and Caucasus; that is, with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia and with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in South Caucasus, then its foreign policy should become more active in those regions.

The first point to be remembered is that Iran should adopt a clear strategy toward those regions. It should specify Iran’s priorities in Central Asia and Caucasus.

Secondly, goals should be set for the country’s policies in Central Asia and Caucasus. We should exactly know where we are going and what goals we are going to achieve. Our ambassadors should not act indiscreetly or in accordance with their discretion. I am not at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but I can see what is happening. Changes in Iran’s ambassadors are telltale of Iran’s foreign policy performance. It shows that a general strategy is lacking to be followed by successive ambassadors. If there is such a strategy, at least, I know nothing about it and it should be delineated in a more transparent manner to let us know what strategy Iran is going to follow in these regions.

Thirdly, practical and innovative solutions should be provided for the promotion of regional cooperation. General remarks are good for nothing. We should see what Iran has to do to help resolution of regional problems. Of course, Iran cannot achieve all its goals, but 60-70 percent of them can be realized. Therefore, the country’s strategy and plans should be crystal clear so that we could focus on their implementation.

Fourthly, Iran should increase its endeavors to expand cooperation with those countries. As a person who has been studying the former Soviet Union for 30 years, 18 years of which has been following collapse of the Soviet Union and focused on Central Asia and Caucasus, I believe that culture is our main comparative advantage in these regions. If we could bolster cultural commonalties with Central Asian and Caucasian countries, then we could also strengthen economic and political cooperation because culture is the bedrock of economic activities and political cooperation. In fact, they supplement each other. We should focus on cultural activities because we enjoy more comparative advantages in this area. Common history, common culture and common religion, especially with Georgia and Armenia, are cultural strengths of which we would make the most.

Cooperation grounds among regional states

1. A plan has been proposed many years ago to launch a common medium for Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan whose common denominator is the Persian language. After so many years, the plan has not been implemented. About four or five years ago, President Ahmadinejad reached an agreement with his Afghan and Tajik counterparts to launch a common television. After all these years, no practical steps have been taken because, firstly, it is not clear who will take charge, and secondly, programming and production policies of the common television have not been laid out. There are also different opinions about what the audience may demand for. This is meaningless. We can only bank on our common culture and identity when our media are coordinated in working for the audience, so as to attract the biggest population of audiences in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. If the same domestic policies are to be applied to the common television, it would get nowhere. This should be done by professionals in order to bear fruit.

2. We can organize seminars on subjects of common interest such as the Persian language and Norouz. Although several gatherings have been held thus far, their results have not been followed up. Bringing a few people together to deliver speeches and print papers will solve no problem. This, however, can be a prelude to formulating more basic solutions. This task has been never accomplished in full. Such cooperation should continue and, more importantly, should evolve into an avenue for useful collaboration. For example, it should lead to publishing a common magazine simultaneously in the capital cities of all countries. If such cooperation is going to be beneficial for all countries, attention should be paid to common solutions. Viewpoints of experts who take part in conferences should be followed up by an executive committee and should not be taken lightly. Many seminars have been held yet and a lot of money has been spent on them, but they have not been of any use in increasing regional cooperation. I emphasize that simply holding seminars and conferences should not be taken as an objective.

3. Plans can be made for regional countries’ journalists to pass courses in Iran and vice versa. If such courses are well-planned and regular, they will be of utmost benefit especially if they are followed up on an educational basis. The Iranian press can publish articles by regional journalists and other countries can publish Iranian journalists’ articles. This requires extensive media cooperation. However, no practical interest has been shown in this issue thus far.

4. Our academic circles can design joint projects. Iranian universities can work with the Central Asian counterparts and implement a joint research project on, for example, Al-Farabi, which is also of interest to Kazakhs. Roudaki can be the subject of a joint work for us and Tajiks. We can design research projects on Avicenna, Kharazmi, and Biruni with Uzbeks without fighting over whether they have been Iranian in origin or not. Emphasis on the nationality of such dignitaries will serve no purpose. We should think to see how such immense human heritage can be used to good avail to promote cultural cooperation among regional countries.

5. Since Central Asian and Caucasian countries do not have access to free waters, they can use Iranian roads. Therefore, the two sides can sign oil and gas as well as road and rail transportation contracts in addition to cultural cooperation. Regional countries, however, will be more motivated to work with Iran when, firstly, there are suitable grounds for cooperation, and secondly, they see the benefits of that cooperation without feeling intimidated. Cultural cooperation is key to this latter kind of cooperation.

6. Last but not least, our diplomatic missions to those regions should be revamped to make sure that they take advantage of people who are expert on their respective regions. This is a long-ignored point which deserves more attention at this juncture.

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