By Paul Goble
Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri, Tehran’s ambassador to Yerevan, told Vahan Kerobyan, Armenia’s acting economics minister, that Iranian construction companies are very interested in participation in the rehabilitation and reopening of the Sisyan-Kajaran section of the North-South rail corridor in Armenia.
Such assistance could mean that Yerevan will now have the resources to begin working on one of the corridors that the November and January declarations ending the latest round of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan said should be reopened as part of a move toward peace (hetq.am/en/article/131952).\
Three things make the Iranian ambassador’s remark important. First, up to now, there has been little movement toward reopening the corridors because while Azerbaijan has the resources to do so, Armenia needs help and until now has not received offers of. Now it has, and Baku is certain to insist that if Yerevan begins work, Baku should be allowed to as well.
Second, it gives Iran new leverage in the area, something certain to trouble Russia, Turkey and the West, albeit for different reasons. Russia will be upset that Armenia now has someone else who can provide it with help. Turkey won’t like this end run in an area it considers its own backyard. And the West won’t be happy about Iran playing a larger international role.
And third, now that Iran has made an offer of a kind – and no details have yet been provided – other countries are going to be challenged to come up with offers of their own, perhaps setting the stage for a bidding war that could simultaneously lead to a reopening of corridors and spark new tensions between newly confident Baku and Yerevan.
Ambassador Zohouri’s words are part of a much larger Iranian plan to become a major player in the South Caucasus and more generally, plans that Iranian speakers at an international conference in Astrakhan at the end of May alluded to (casp-geo.ru/iran-vystupaet-za-mnogostoronnee-nauchnoe-i-akademicheskoe-sotrudnichestvo-na-kaspii/).
How far Iran will be able to go in these directions remains to be seen, but it is an important regional player and is signaling its intent not to be left on the sidelines as the South Caucasus congeals into a new set of arrangements in the coming months.