What does Iran’s drive for Central Asia partnerships look like? - analysis

Iran has established a new drone factory in Tajikistan and also sought partnerships in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France (photo credit: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)
Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France
(photo credit: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)

Iran has been seeking to do outreach and increase its partnership with its Eastern neighbors for the last decade. This has been clear in Iran’s participation at forums such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran has been watching the SCO closely, as well as the 2019 meeting at Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, when the Tajiks hosted the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.

These kinds of forums bring together a variety of powers that are outside the US orbit of influence. This means that Iran believes it can thrive as it drives to work with China, Russia, Turkey and other states. Pakistan also believes in these partnerships as a way to unseat the United States from global leadership.

Iran has established a new drone factory in Tajikistan and has also sought partnerships in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Now Iran is opening up more about its new partnerships. A recent media article argued that Iran has reached a new high point in relations in Central Asia. This is based on statements of Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian recently arrived in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, to attend last week’s Caspian Sea Littoral States meeting after his trip to Turkey, according to Mehr News. The assessment in Tehran is that this is the “golden age” of Iran’s new partnerships with the East. Iran has signed a new 25-year agreement with China, and Iran’s Quds Force head in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is an expert on Afghanistan.

“In recent months, the development of Iran’s relations with the Central Asian countries has reached its peak,” Tasnim News said. The Turkmenistan visit is part of the “depth of Iran’s relations.” Iran believes the new discussions about the Caspian Sea relate to larger trade corridors that can link Iran north-to-south from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf and Oman.

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005 (credit: RAHEB HOMAVANDI/REUTERS)A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005 (credit: RAHEB HOMAVANDI/REUTERS)

The report in Iranian media said that over the last eight years, Iran has made new steps in Central Asia. However, the previous Iranian administration spent time trying to work with the West and squandered some successes.

“In recent months, the development of Iran's relations with the Central Asian countries has reached its peak.”

Tasnim News

Iran's current relations

“Realizing the strategic importance of the northern neighbors, Iran has taken a step in a path that will bring many benefits to the country. [This involves] the development of political and economic relations with Central Asian countries.”

Now Iran is working with Turkmenistan, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan during the recent Caspian Summit. The next round of meetings with these states will be hosted in Tehran. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said that these meetings are of great strategic importance.

“We have good relations with the neighboring countries of the Caspian Sea, but what is discussed in this summit is in addition to the legal regime of the Caspian Sea and its peaceful use with the aim of improving security,” Raisi said. “In the Caspian Sea, cooperation among countries in the field of transportation, transit, trade and cooperation among countries in managing living resources in the Caspian Sea and preserving the environment and preventing the presence of foreigners in this sea is what happens to all coastal.”

Iran said that it is ready to increase trade and transit and invest in infrastructure. Cooperation will take place in the field of export and swaps for oil and gas, electricity, minerals and agricultural products.

“It brings a new era of strategic cooperation,” said Iran’s president.

IRAN IS ALSO discussing a new Iran-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan gas bridge. This is important because Iran is seeking to build partnerships outside the US orbit so it can avoid sanctions. With Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is natural that Russia will want to work more closely with Iran. The former Soviet states in Central Asia are key to this. In addition, Azerbaijan and its neighbors are important. Some US analysts believe that Azerbaijan and Turkey are destined to clash with Iran, but Iran’s leadership sees many common interests with Ankara and Azerbaijan.

Iran has said that it recently “concluded important agreements and memorandums with Turkmenistan, the two countries have determined to fully implement the cooperation documents and develop economic and commercial relations between Tehran and Ashgabat.” These include visa and trade deals, as well as Iran, which said it is “ready to increase the gas swap capacity of Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan through our country.”

“Relations between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan are of great importance for both countries, and despite the fact that efforts have been made to distance these two countries, the authorities have intelligently maintained the relations. In the meantime, the Zionist regime has tried to influence the equations, but it has remained powerless,” the Tasnim report said. Iran is obsessed with the issue of Israel-Azerbaijan relations. Iran told Baku, according to the Tasnim report, that the “presence of the occupied Jerusalem [Israel] regime in the region is a source of tension and is not in the interest of the region’s security.”

Iran also wants to invest in ties with Russia. These also include energy deals. “It is necessary to support the two countries to strengthen the North-South corridor and also to expand cooperation in the field of energy, including swaps. It is necessary to regularly strengthen the necessary mechanisms to strengthen banking and monetary relations between Iran and Russia,” Iran said.

Iran now views itself as “the leader of the Central Asian countries.” This is a big step for Tehran. Iran said it has been working closely with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and met both their leaders recently. The Tajiks paid a high-level visit to Iran, and Iran has also held meetings with the president of Kazakhstan and hosted Russia’s foreign minister.

Iranian media reported, “The countries of the region have correctly understood the importance of the regional attitude of Iran’s foreign policy. They know very well that interaction with Iran brings valuable political and economic benefits.”

Iran is also interested in working with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Iran believes these states can benefit from the Chabahar Port project in Iran’s South, saying that “Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have seen a place where they can make stations for themselves, where their cargo will be transited. Not only Tajikistan, but others too, and Kyrgyzstan’s road minister visited Chabahar twice.”

Iran wants to be a transit hub for Central Asia. It believes it can help these countries access the Indian Ocean. Rail lines will become operations, Iran has said. This will also link to Turkey.

“In the North-South Corridor, measures have been taken to solve the transportation of cargo in the form of containers and combined by sea access,” Iran said. “In the end, it should be said that the important capacities of developing the political, economic and cultural relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus were neglected for a long time.”

Now Iran believes it can reach a new age in ties.