Georgia and Iran: Saakashvili changing patrons?08.11.2010 | 13:44
Heads of Foreign Ministries of Georgia and Iran have signed a visa-free agreement. We can witness a rapprochement between the two states. Now the citizens of the two countries won't need a visa to visit each other and will fly directly from Tbilisi to Teheran. A visa-free regime with Georgia will allow Iran to strengthen its positions in the region, while Georgia will demonstrate the ability to carry out a policy contradicting its old friends' interests.
Social experts enjoy asking Georgians whether Iran affects the politics of Transcaucasia. So far, they had to give a negative answer in questionnaires. Unlike Turkey, Iran has always been very far from Transcaucasia. When the visa regime with Georgia was cancelled, the Muslim country became much closer, so now the Georgian respondents of sociologic centers will positively answer the questions about Iran's influence.
A visa-free agreement was signed on November 3 during Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's visit to Georgia. Now citizens in both countries may visit each other for as long as 45 days without the need to issue a visa. The flight connection between Tbilisi and Teheran interrupted in 2000 has been resumed.
In a word, there have been created most favorable conditions for the two nations' friendship. The head of Foreign Ministry opened a consulate in Batumi to facilitate the Georgians' trips to Iran. Mottaki also met with President Mikheil Saakashvili. A visa-free regime with Iran is beneficial for Georgia. Within last year, the number of Iranian tourists in Georgia grew more than two and a half times despite visa barriers. Besides, Georgia is expecting large investments from Iran.
The neighbors' experience shows that the Muslim country is ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on large-scale economic projects, while for Teheran, relationship with Georgia is mere politics. Being blocked by the world community, it continues searching for opportunities to expand influence.
In recent years, the Caucasus has been a priority spot in Iran's foreign policy, so the Georgian direction is very important for Teheran. The media report a possible visit of Iranian leader Makhmud Akhmadinedzhad to Georgia in the foreseeable future.
Georgia is the last country in the list of those, with which Iran is setting up strong connections in the Caucasus. In its relationship with Armenia and Azerbaijan, Teheran passed on to economic projects a long time ago. Armenian-Iranian cooperation consists of two large directions, the construction of an oil pipeline and a railway, as well as cooperation in the power economy field.
The construction of an oil pipeline for transporting oil products will cost two hundred million dollars. The railway will cost twice as much, though it will allow Armenia to get out of the transport blockade. These projects have got a complicated financing scheme but in fact, communications will be constructed at the expense of Iran.
A railway between Iran and Azerbaijan is also being built. Only a small section of it will be constructed in the territory of Azerbaijan between the town of Astara and the Iranian border. However, this road will shorten the way between Russia, European countries and Iran. All the Caucasian countries look at Iran as an important outlook.
Transportation projects with Armenia and Azerbaijan and a visa-free regime with Georgia will let Iran achieve significant success in its Caucasian policy. To some extent, communications will re-orient Caucasian markets towards the south and Teheran is going to catch up with Turkey in terms of regional influence.
Georgian Foreign Ministry announced a thaw in relationship with Iran this spring. In May, Tbilisi was for the first time visited by a delegation from Teheran and that's when negotiations on the visa regime cancellation were started. However, the parties were very careful about signing the agreement. Head of Iranian Foreign Ministry Manouchehr Mottaki had been expected in Tbilisi in August but Tbilisi was also prudent, fearing Washington's anger and the anger of its European friends. It is no secret that Iran's relationship with the West remains complicated.
In September, during the UN General Assembly, Akhmadinedzhad raised a stink by saying that the terrorist act of September 11, 2001 was organized by American special services with the purpose of launching war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not the best background for Georgia-Iran relationship, considering Georgia's considerable material dependence both on the USA and European Union. That's why, perhaps, Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia Nino Kalandadze has been repeating all these months that setting up relationship with Iran does not prejudice Georgia's donors.
However, Kalandadze is playing cunning. Iran is a scarecrow for the West and the relationship with Iran is the best way for Tbilisi to blackmail its cooling-down friends. From the economical point of view, Georgia will surely benefit from cooperation with the southern neighbor but it will suffer great losses should European Union grow resentful, and the relations with Iran won't make up for these losses.