Armenia and Iran Should Strive For Strategic Partnership

10 m.   |  2021-08-02

In this article we will present an interview with Majid Karimi, an Iranian expert on the Caucasus,n the new challenges created for Armenia and Iran in the region after the 44-day war in Artsakh, Tehran’s stance on the opening of communication channels and on the prospects for the development of Armenian-Iranian relations. 

- Recently, we have witnessed mutual visits of Armenian and Iranian officials. The parties intend to expand bilateral cooperation. In your opinion, what obstacles and opportunities are there for the development of Armenian-Iranian relations?

- Relations between Iran and Armenia need to be reviewed by both sides. Currently, 3 decades after the collapse of the USSR and the independence of Armenia, one can make an overall assessment of the need to realize national interests. The strategic partnership model should replace the diplomatic passivity model. That means, that both countries must put aside the policy of hesitation and delay in strategic relations and the Safavid model must be established in their relations. That is, both the Muslim and Christian countries, like the Safavid era, should unite against the intentions of foreign governments.

The strategic partnership model between Armenia and Iran, in which I believe, should be implemented as soon as possible. The strategic partnership between the two countries and then the coalition will not pose a threat to neighboring countries. Iran should quickly carry out the two-tier model of cooperation with Armenia and Azerbaijan, without being influenced by a third country.

From my standpoint, there are three main factors that can bring the relations between Armenia and Iran to the stage of strategic partnership. The first factor is that after the 44-day war, some countries entered the South Caucasus with hostile intentions, posing a threat to Armenia and Iran. The second factor is the 46 km-long common border between the two countries, and unfortunately, occupation plans are being developed to separate Iran from Armenia. And the third factor is that both Iran and Armenia have strategic and common interests in transporting Iranian gas to the Black Sea and Europe.

In my view, the obstacle of the expansion of relations is the lack of will for strategic cooperation for both sides. That is, both Yerevan and Tehran still do not believe in strategic relations and they were also pressured by extra-regional forces. The approach of the diplomatic apparatus of the two countries to relations shouldn’t be only short-term and economic, but should also cover other aspects, including military and even joint exercises should be held. This should be agreed at the top leadership and partnership level of the two countries, and in the second stage an agreement on coalition should be signed.

- How did the situation after the 44-day war affect Iran? What new challenges arose for Iran? What is Tehran’s official approach to this issue?

- The 44-day war raised concerns for Iran in three dimensions. First, is that a geopolitical vacuum has been created in the south of Karabakh, on the 136 km-long border with Iran. We do not know what will happen in that area. The second and more important issue is the issue of Meghri and the corridor. Unfortunately, the statements, that Syunik belongs to Azerbaijan or the threats to open the corridor directly endanger Iran’s national interests. That region is the only point of contact between Iran and Armenia and it shouldn’t be allowed in any way that Iran’s border with Armenia will be cut or closed or occupied by a third country. The third dimension is the non-final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. That is, the hotbed of the crisis still exists. The issue of Northern or Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenians living there is in uncertainty and it will create grounds for territorial disputes in the future.

- The issue of unblocking of communication channels of the region is being discussed after the war. What is Tehran’s approach to it?

- Regarding communication channels, Iran should, of course, welcome the opening of the new roads, provided that the geopolitical and internationally recognised borders between Iran and Armenia will not be changed. Second, Iran should respond strongly to any kind of military intervention in Syunik. Iran should pursue reopening of Julfa-Nakhchivan-Yerevan route, and should at the same time work on opening Maku-Sharur-Yeraskh-Yerevan route. Iran should persuade Armenia and Armenia, would better to allow Iran to establish a military base in Syunik as soon as possible. Iran can establish a military balance in the region. Armenia should always border Iran. It shouldn’t be allowed in any way that Turkey borders Azerbaijan in Syunik. As, unfortunately, Turkey’s behavior in the Caucasus is ambitious.

- Iran wants to launch the corridor connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea through the territory of Armenia. Besides there is a desire to pass a part of the North-South corridor through the territory of Armenia. What is the reason for this interest of the Iranian side?

- Armenia makes the Iranian gas pipeline closer to the Black Sea seaports of Georgia. Iran can create a South-North corridor from the Persian Gulf to Georgia. If Iran’s exports grow with the lifting of sanctions, Iran can transport its goods to Georgia and to the South of Russia via Armenia, and to take control of the market in this region. Being in the center of the South Caucasus, Armenia has an exclusive position for Iran. It should be noted that Armenia has always been the route of Iranian trade to the Black Sea and Europe during the 3000-year Iran-Armenia joint history. This route is also beneficial for Armenia, and in case of creating a corridor for Iranian gas transit, Armenia’s geopolitical position will be strengthened. This cooperation is itself a deterrent in a possible future war and will give Iran the right to stand by Armenia or play a key role in future Caucasian conflicts. Armenia can join the Persian Gulf and carry out its cargo transportation through this route without any threats and obstacles.

The 44-day war showed that 46 km-long Armenian-Iranian border should never be closed, even during the war and Iran should play a greater role in ensuring Armenia’s security on the Meghri border. This border is a safe corridor for Armenia to reach the Persian Gulf and Arab countries, including Iraq and Armenia should use this opportunity to export goods to Arab countries. The North-South corridor is not only for Iran, it is also for Armenia. Iran has that geographical advantage for Armenia to get that country out of the blockade, even to bring Armenia to Iraqi market and make the ports of the Persian Gulf available to Armenia.

- The head of judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi won the Iranian presidential election. How can the formation of a new government impact on Iran’s foreign policy, particularly on its relations with Armenia?

- The new governments of Armenia and Iran begin their work in the conditions of new reality in the Caucasus, and it’s is very important that the two governments take steps for more comprehensive cooperation. In the present situation, these relations do not match with the spirit of geographical, historical and cultural proximity. Armenia and Iran have wasted time for 30 years. Armenia, regardless of the pressures of extra-regional states and Iran, the relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, should pursue a high-level strategic partnership, even if Russia and the US are dissatisfied with it. Relations between Armenia and Iran shouldn’t be affected by the pressures from the Russia and the US. The strengthening of relations between Armenia and Iran is also in favor of Russia and the US and is not considered a threat. If Iran has a presence in the Caucasus, it will be able to establish a balance of power. Iran is not a threat to any of the Caucasian country and it doesn’t have territorial ambitions. Iran knows the people of the Caucasus quite well and is in good relations with them. Iranian officials, in turn, are well aware of the strategic threats posed by the 44-day war and are closely following the events in South Karabakh. Hope that the level of vigilance of the two countries towards the goals against their national interests will be high and they will realize that they need each other.

According to me, as a result of new developments in Iran, we will move towards strengthening strategic cooperation with Armenia and the issue of opening energy and transit corridors in Meghri will enter a new stage. Changes must be made in the foreign policy of the two countries. Short and continuous negotiations should be held and move towards strategic alliance by eliminating obstacles and contradictions. This approach will become a model of cooperation between Muslim and Christian countries. Iran has the experience of this policy in cooperation with the Christian government of Lebanon. I predict that new dangers are expected for Armenia in the next two decades and I think that Armenia can change the balance of power against the invaders by including Iran in its strategic interests. The new government of Iran must develop national security strategy in the South Caucasus and be ready to face conflicts. In this issue, Iran shouldn’t wait for the green light from Russia or for the permission of other extra-regional parties. Guided by its national interests, Iran should confront threats and have a strategic partnership with Armenia. The 46 km-long border is not safe for Iran and Armenia, thus Iran should realize that if one day some countries aim to change Syunik’s geography, it should take steps to protect its strategic geography. The new government of Armenia should also accept this partnership of Iran and pave the way for Iran’s presence. Iran should also take Armenia seriously and know that Armenia is the anchor of the South Caucasus and has a very important role in resisting Turkey’s ambitions in the region.

Armenia is the strategic bridge of the Caucasus and although it doesn’t have an access to the Black Sea, it has an important geographical position which can create an opportunity for Iran to confront future threats. The 44-day war was a great lesson for both countries to prepare for future threats and to cooperate with each other at a strategic level. The new governments of Iran and Armenia would better to launch the Meghri FEZ transit route as soon as possible, turning Syunik into an industrial and trade zone. This province is the throat and southern airway of Armenia, thus both Armenia and Iran should prioritize investments in this province and have continuous cooperation. Unfortunately, the plans for Armenian-Iranian cooperation haven’t been implemented for years, in the case when Azerbaijan is quickly implementing economic programs in South Karabakh. If Syunik do not develop and if people leave this region, it will endanger the interests of both countries. Iran should support Armenia so that this region can develop and economic activity can be activated. It will also be in Iran’s favor and Armenia will also benefit. The implementation of joint plans shouldn’t be delayed. The Armenian government should resolutely remove the obstacles.