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No Rapprochement Between Baku and Tehran

The following article by IWP alumnus Vilen Khlgatyan was published by the Political Developments Research Center.

For years relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have been tense due to mutual suspicions and divergent foreign policy trajectories. While the former seeks to suppress any form of self-determination, blockade Armenia, and promote its hydrocarbon reserves to the West; the latter aims to maintain its theocratic system, project its influence in the Near East, and in recent years develop what it maintains is a purely civilian nuclear program. By default the two states often find themselves in opposite corners. Indeed, as long as their perceived national interests remain unchanged the two regimes will not establish a partnership of any strategic weight.

The visit of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to Azerbaijan in November provided another opportunity for regional analysts to take stock of the Caucasian chessboard and the external powers that try to move around the pieces. Although the two states signed no major accords some analysts murmured about a supposed rapprochement. A simple overview of the regional dynamics demonstrates why such predictions are overly optimistic.

It is no secret that Iran wants to increase its presence in the Caucasus, particularly among the Southern Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The fall of the USSR more than 20 years ago opened a window of opportunity for Tehran to gain geopolitical ground. Iran and Azerbaijan ought to have established the closest ties, but several factors precluded this. A primary factor was the pan-Turkic and irredentist claims of successive Azerbaijani leaders, most notably Abulfaz Elchibey, against Northern Iran which propelled Tehran to engage a more constructive partner: Armenia. Iran’s calculus for this decision was simple: prevent an Azerbaijani victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh War in order to keep Turkey in check, Azerbaijan weak, and Armenia as a shield against the consolidation of pan-Turkism.

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