ISSN 2330-717X

Iran Remains ‘A Stumbling Block’ To Cooperation On The Caspian – OpEd

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As the third anniversary of the Caspian delimitation agreement approaches, analysts from Russia and Azerbaijan say that Iran, which has yet to ratify that accord, may now do so but represents a serious “stumbling block” to further cooperation because of Tehran’s historical views about the region.

At an online meeting convened last week by the North-South Center, the Trend news agency and the BakuNetwork, four experts expressed their views on the prospects for cooperation with Iran (m.az.sputniknews.ru/politics/20210702/427372733/Iran-kak-kamen-pretknoveniya–eksperty-o-perspektivakh-sotrudnichestva-na-Kaspii.html and casp-geo.ru/eksperty-otsenili-razvitie-svyazej-stran-kaspijskoj-pyaterki-i-problemy-bezopasnosti/).

Stanislav Pritchin, a senior IMEMO expert on the region, said that he expects Iran to ratify the 2018 accord now that the new conservative government is in place and thus is likely to take “a more pragmatic” and less historically driven position than its predecessor. But even when it does, he added, that won’t solve all problems because the accord doesn’t.

“For Iran, the Caspian Sea is an Iranian sea” because in the past, Iran dominated the region and even in Soviet times, shared the sea only with the USSR. Now, it must work out relations with four states and yield some of what it views as its natural right to others. That takes time, the Moscow analyst continues.

It was precisely because of the Iranian difficulties with any agreement that issues of territorial demilitarization” of the Caspian were excluded from the 2018 accord. But those must be resolved, on a multi-lateral basis if possible but on the basis of bilateral agreements if necessary, Pritchin says.

Fortunately, he continues, the five littoral states continue to talk; but he reminds that the 2018 accord was reached only after 22 years of negotiations, an indication of just how long it may take to resolve remaining problems.

Gyulnara Mamedzade, head of the BakuNetwork analytic center, agrees that Tehran may ratify the earlier accord, especially as it has an interest in being a full participant in both North-South and East-West trade that international recognition of the division of the Caspian opens up. But she too says that doesn’t exhaust the issue.

Namik Aliyev, an Azerbaijani ambassador who heads the foreign policy section of the Baku Academy of State Administration, says that the Iranian position represents the most difficult challenge to reaching agreement. Iran has already made concessions, and it isn’t happy about having to make more.

When there are no international accords, each country will be more inclined to act on its own; and such actions, he suggests, often reflect the use of military power rather than simply allowing economic relations to define the situation. That is something all the countries around the Caspian need to recognize, Aliyev says.

And Eduard Poletayev, head of the Eurasian World Foundation, argues that the situation regarding the Caspian is better than it has ever been before because of the 2018 agreement. But he too suggests that even when Iran ratifies that document, there will be much to talk about in future negotiations among all the littoral states.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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