February 24, 2017

IRAN AND THE SOUTH CAUCASUS: A STRUGGLE FOR INFLUENCE

by Prof Mahir Khalifa-zadeh

azGlobalContext.org, Toronto-based Media and Analysis Center, Canada
azglobalcontext.org (Canada)
24 February, 2017
(post's parts published in 2011 but key findings still relevant for the region' political landscape)
original source: Journal of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, 2011, Vol 12, Issue 1, Stockholm, Sweden, www.ca-c.org; http://www.ca-c.org/journal/2011-01-eng/05.shtml
Introduction
It is well known that within the dozen centuries the South Caucasus had a strategic importance for superpowers which dominated in different historical periods. As a start of superpowers’ struggle and paramount evidence of their attempts to secure interests in this strategic part of the world, we can recall the Roman Army advances under command of General Pompey (66-65 BC) and General Mark Antony (36 BC) to the Caucasus. And in 75 AD, Roman Emperor Domitian has sent the legion of XII Fulminata to support the allied kingdoms of Iberia and Albania (modern Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan respectively). A rock inscription was found near the shores of the Caspian Sea (Gobustan, 60-70 km from Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan) mentions the presence of Legio XII Fulminata's centurio named Lucius Julius Maximus (1; 2).

The region’s strategic dimensions
For the centuries, the superpowers like Roman and Persian Empires (3), Caliphate, Persian and Byzantium Empires (4) or Ottoman, Persian and Russian Empires (5, 6) struggled to control the South Caucasus. Undoubtedly, since the time of Great Silk Way, the South Caucasus plays an important role and is a shortest land way from Chine to the Europe. The region is a land bridge between Black Sea and Caspian Sea; and is a gateway to the Middle East and the Central Asia. In this light, the South Caucasus has strategic geographical and transportation dimensions.

In the era of industrialization and the world’s economy dependency on oil and gas, the South Caucasus has gained an additional strategic dimension – the energy dimension - specifically for Azerbaijani hydrocarbons’ huge reserves and production. Azerbaijan, in the beginning of XX century, has produced more than half of the world oil production and 95% of Russian oil (11 million tones/per year) (7). And, in nowadays, the South Caucasus is a region neighboring the Persian Gulf. So, the South Caucasus has a multi-dimensional strategic importance both for global and regional powers. Finally, the region’s strategic significance has been brilliantly described by Dr Brzezinski (former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter) in “The Grand Chessboard” (8).
South Caucasus politics' key players  
The contemporary politics of the South Caucasus is characterized by the high level of complexity as well as dynamic rivalry between global, regional and local players. Concerning to the region’s landscape, one can emphasize that the United States, Islamic world and European countries present global powers; Russia, Turkey and Iran are key regional actors; and finally, as local actors, one can indicate Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. In addition, a huge pool of influenceable international organizations like OSCE, CIS, EU, NATO, OIC and religious and humanitarian organizations operate and shape politics in this part of the world. Meanwhile, the large family of multi-national oil corporations and companies like BP (UK), Amoco (USA), UNOCAL (USA), McDermott International (USA) and others have their own “pie” in the Caucasus tangle web of oil and politics.

Last, the XXI century’s South Caucasus, like a whole Great Caucasus region, continues to be complex and unassimilated by Russians and occupies a strategic importance for global politics, international security and energy security.

Iran, as mentioned above, is one of the key players in the South Caucasus. And, as within the whole course of history, Iran (Persia) continues to be in the list of powers which struggles for their interests and goals in this region. So, the modern Iran has wide and deep historical experience to play its own strategic game in this part of the world.

Key sources of Iran’s foreign policy
It is necessary to emphasize Iran (Persia), within the whole course of history, was able to conduct smart, precise and delicate, balanced and pragmatic foreign policy. So as result of this successful approach, Iran continues to exist in the world map and now is one of the powerful nations. Moreover, Iran is able to adapt effective foreign and security policy that reflects the flowing strategic environments of different historical periods. The centuries of Persian policy’s experience and ability to implement the smart policy testify that Iran has fundamental sources which shape the nation’s foreign policy. Concerning the modern Islamic Republic of Iran, the scholars from the RAND Corporation (California based research organization) emphasize that there are certain characteristics of Iran which drive the country’s foreign and security policy (9).
Since the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as authors urge, there are two key factors -revolutionary Islam and Persian nationalism- which continue to be strong sources for Iran’s foreign policy. However, they argue that the revolutionary or ideological element has been decline after more than 20 years since the Islamic revolution. Such decline has been occurred for several unsuccessful attempts to export and spread the Revolution’s ideas into other parts of the Islamic world, particularly, to the Central Asia and South Caucasus. From other side, according the RAND, the revolutionary ideas brought Iran to the confrontation with superpowers and put the country to the isolation. So, as many scholars agree, ideas of revolution are declined and, finally, pragmatic, economic and geopolitical factors are raised as driven sources of the country’s foreign policy.

The RAND’s experts consider ethnicity and communalism as the next source of Iran’s foreign policy. They emphasize that some (Azeris, Kurds) ethnic minorities’ close ties with neighbor states as well as the ethnic communities across the Iranian border are a key source for the country’s foreign policy. And we agree with this implication. The Azeris are Iran’s largest ethnic minority. The ethnic composition is: Persians are 51% of the country’s population, Azeris 24%; Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1% (10). Some ethnic groups are concentrated mainly in border areas and have ties with ethnic groups or states across the Iranian border like Kurds and Azeris. The Azeris have close ties with the South Caucasian Republic of Azerbaijan and Kurds with Kurdish communities in Iraq and Turkey. Moreover, Iranian Azeris have experience to establish their own an independent state (Southern Azerbaijan Democratic Republic) that emerged in 1945-46 with the support of Soviets (11). Finally, the Azeris minority’s experience to build their own independent state, as well as an existence of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan (Persian speaking Central Asian state) have key policy-making implications for Iran’s foreign and security policy towards the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
The next fundamental source for Iran’s foreign policy is economics. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran faces significant problems to modernize national economy and military. Now the both issues occupy a high priority of Tehran’s agenda. Iran needs foreign investments and to diversificate the national economy and ensure access to new technologies. However, the isolation of Iran in global affairs, as result of US-Iranian tensions, creates a huge obstacle for Tehran to deal with economic, military and technological modernization.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to emphasize that the relations between Iran and the United States dominate Iran’s foreign policy and drive and fuel the country’s behavior on global and regional levels. Moreover, the key strategic issue for Iran’s foreign policy is: to solve problems with the West (United States). So, from our viewpoint, Iran conducts foreign policy exactly from the prism of relations with the United States and the West. So, Iran deals with the South Caucasus via an angle of Iran-USA and Iran-Europe relations.

Iran-Russia relations and Iran’s policy toward the region
The South Caucasus - is oil and gas rich region with a strategic location that creates brilliant prospects for local nations to be rich and prosperous. However, the Caucasus belongs to “the areas of greatest insecurity in today's world lie along an arc from the Balkans though the Middle East to Central Asia” (12). Unfortunately, the South Caucasus is an arena of hard struggle between global and regional powers for geopolitical influence and to control Caspian energy recourses, as well as energy transportation routes. And Iran engages into this rivalry.

It is well known that the main threat to Iran’s security and territorial integrity, within the last three centuries, has come from the North – from imperial Russia and later from the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the local states of the South Caucasus - Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia – were emerged after the disintegration of the USSR. And now these states form a “buffer zone” between Iran and Russia (13). Iran clearly understands that an existence of such buffer zone is vital for nation’s security because of strong Russian imperialistic ambitions and Moscow’s nostalgia on Red Empire’s “glory” days. So, Iran strongly supports the independence of all three states. From other hand, the existence of South Caucasian countries creates new opportunities and challenges for Iran’s foreign and security policy.
We consider that Tehran’s strategy toward the South Caucasus originates from Iran’s specific position in global affairs, especially from nation’s confrontational relations with the West (USA). Iran’s relations with the USA, as a backbone of Tehran’s strategic foreign and security policy, drive and rule Tehran’s behaviour in global and regional levels, including the South Caucasus. Moreover, some scholars believe that the significant degree of the US-Iranian confrontation is continuing in the South Caucasus as well (14).

It is well known, Iran tries to contain and minimize Western pressure. So, in accordance with this strategy, Tehran actively cooperates with Russia. Notwithstanding with the collapse of Soviet Empire, modern Russia continues to consider itself as a global competitor to the USA (15). Russia is a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. And Tehran takes these points into account and considers Moscow as a key supporter. The cooperation between Iran and Russia is highly saturated and covers wide agenda: science, technology, military and nuclear and other issues with multi-billion dollar turnover.
Meanwhile, the strategic cooperation with Iran is beneficial for Russia as well. Iran is a huge market for Russia’s military weapons and nuclear technology exports. Since 2005, Russia has observer status at the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s influence in the Islamic world is an effective tool to create and support Russia’s friendly image in Muslim states. Moreover, by the cooperation with Iran and the OIC, Russia tries to minimize Islamic pressure in Russia itself, as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia. From other hand, as global competitor to the USA, Russia tries (in accordance with the old Soviet strategy) to challenge America’s global positions, particularly in the Islamic world.

Russia very painfully reacts to the U.S. and NATO “advance” into Kremlin’s “near abroad”, particularly to the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia tries to weaken Western influence and presence in this part of the world, as well as to secure Caspian energy resources and energy transportation routes under Moscow’s control.

We can emphasize that Iran’s has similar strategic goals in the South Caucasus. So, Iran’s South Caucasian strategy is oriented to support Russia’s dominance in this part of the world. It is beneficial for Tehran to be under Russian umbrella or shadow in this region (16, 17). Both Russia and Iran strengthen their positions in the struggle for influence with the United States which has proclaimed that the Caspian basin is strategically vital for America’s national interests (18, 19). Moreover, the European Union step-by-step strengthens its positions as well. In other words, the West actively implements the set of strategic programs like - Silk Road Strategy, Partnership for Peace, Eastern Partnership and others which are oriented to project Western influence to the South Caucasus and Central Asia. These programs are vital to increase the Western presence and redesign the post-Soviet local order or minimize Russian influence and control. Therefore, Russia needs to react and reflect challenges which can weak Russia’s traditional dominance in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Finally, Russia needs to have a strategic partner and Iran is very valuable.
It is necessary to note that Iran’s hostility with the United States and Israel pushes Tehran to be close with Moscow. Moreover, Russia tries to prolong Iran’s problems with the United States as long as possible. In this case, Russia defocuses Washington’s strategic attention from Russia itself and Russia’s “near abroad” and creates significant “headache” for Washington’s decision-makers. It is logical that if Russia considers itself as global competitor for US dominance, so Russian strategists believe that US-Iran tension, as well as America’s problems in Iraq, North Korean issues and Afghan war would weak the United States global dominance and superiority. Finally, the continuation of the US-Iran hostility ensures Iran’s dependency from Moscow and secures Tehran’s billion dollars flow to the Kremlin that is vital to modernize the old-style Russian economy.

From our perspective, the development of Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus demonstrates that Tehran abandoned ideological (Islamic or Shia) considerations and adopted pragmatic (supports Russia’s policy) and regional (develops state-to-state relations) approaches toward the South Caucasus. Iran tries to expand its political-security and economic role in the region. Some Iranian scholars believe that “regionalism” could be beneficial approach in Iran’s foreign policy. They argue that a regional approach will strengthen Iran’s national interest at the regional and international levels and increase Iran’s capacity to deal with great and regional powers (20). Undoubtedly, by the developing of bilateral relations with the South Caucasus sates, Iran could significantly increase its capabilities in the international scene.
In this light, Iran considers the South Caucasus as a possible and good platform to cooperate with the West. And this is a key strategic dimension of Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus. Iran tries to participate in huge international projects (with Western participation) to explore and transport Caspian energy resources. However, the United States strongly opposes to any Iran’s participation like it was happen with Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century”. The United States excludes any possible cooperation with Tehran for its nuclear ambitions and precisely monitors Iran’s behavior.

Nevertheless, Iran develops economic cooperation with local countries and considers state-to-state relations as a valuable “tool” to increase political influence and strengthen strategic positions. In this light, the cooperation between Iran and Armenia (with Russia’s blessing) is an example of such strategy. Undoubtedly, Iran-Armenian cooperation has key implications for the South Caucasus and is an effective approach to contain Turkey’s influence, Turkey-Azerbaijan strategic alliance (21) and rising Azerbaijan’s economic and military power.

Obviously, an improvement of Turkey-Armenian relations will decrease Tehran-Moscow axis’ role and weak the axis’ significance for the region. Moreover, an elimination of Turkey-Armenian hostility will dramatically decrease or undermine Russian dominance in the South Caucasus. So, Turkish-Armenian reconciliation does not correlate to Russian (first) and Iranian (second) strategic interests. And indeed, this process is already deadlocked (22). Moreover, Iran tries to contain Turkey, as NATO’s key member and close US ally, in the Greater Middle East region (23) toward which Iran has its own strategic interests and political goals (20).

Notwithstanding Iran has wide historical heritage to deal with the South Caucasus, however, Tehran’s capabilities are significantly limited. Iran, unlike Turkey, is not so attractive for the South Caucasian countries because of Tehran’s tensions with the USA. This is first and key point. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia, unlike Armenia, consider the West (USA) as a key source to secure their independence and counterbalance predominant Russia’s power. Second, the Islamic nature of Tehran’s regime significantly limits the political co-operation; and third point - Russia! The elimination of Iran-US tensions or their any significant improvement does not correlate with Russia’s long term interests.
Finally, the strategic approach of Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus is more pragmatic than ideological or based on ethnicity and is oriented to prevent any significant shifts which could strengthen positions of the United States or European Union or NATO; support Russian dominance; keep balance between local states.

Region’s political dynamics and Iran’s strategic priorities
Since the Soviet Union’s breakup, we identify two significant shifts in the geopolitical game of the South Caucasus. The first is: - Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century” of 1995; and - second, the Russo-Georgian war that broke out in August 2008. From our viewpoint, the first shift led to the second and, so, the event’s consequence indicates that the Russo-Georgian war was unavoidable.
Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century” has opened doors for large scale Western penetration and investments not only into Azerbaijani oil and gas sectors, but to the whole South Caucasian region. And investments brought wide and active political engagement of the West into Caucasian affairs. The United States, NATO, the European Union and Turkey began step-by-step to strengthen their positions and gradually started to implement several strategic programs like: Silk Road Strategy, Partnership for Pease, Eastern Partnership and strengthening Turkic identity. These programs and the set of initiatives like Caspian Guard (24) are oriented to establish pro-Western security arrangements and ensure Western (US) interest and direct control over Caspian energy resources and energy’s transportation routes.

Undoubtedly, Iran considers such initiatives as a direct threat to its security. Moreover, Iran was the first (possibly with Russian approval) who tried to overthrow the situation and stop Western “advance” into the region in  which Russia and Iran are traditional players and have common strategic goals.
So, Iran’s reaction was very clear and aggressive like it was happen in 2001 when Iranian warship forced a British Petroleum boat to return to port or Iranian military aircrafts violated Azerbaijani air borders and entered country’s air space (25). Moreover, only the diplomatic intervention of Ankara and Washington prevented a full-scale war (26). These events emphasize that Tehran was very angry for Azerbaijan and Georgian pro-Western orientation and for rising influence of the United States in the whole Caspian basin.

It is necessary to note that Russia, in that time, was engaged to solve the unrest in Chechnya. And, possibly for Chechen issues, Moscow or Tehran-Moscow axis was unable to stop or at list to slow down Western “advance”.
Finally, within the next years, the West was able significantly to increase its presence in the South Caucasus. Moreover, Georgia directly and Azerbaijan indirectly began to speculate on future NATO membership. It was a time of “good hope” for local states to solve their security issues.

So, within the years after the “Contract of the Century”, Russia gradually being forced to retreat from the South Caucasus and Central Asia. And Moscow very painfully reacted for Western and Asian advances to these regions. Some experts emphasize that: “... to counter this development, one of Russia’s tactics is to slow down Western advances... ” (36). So, possibly that the origin of the Russo-Georgian war, from our viewpoint, comes from this strategy. And Moscow’s strategic goal were clear: to stop Russia’s retreat and retake strategic initiative and ensure Russia’s interests. Unfortunately, Georgia’s President Saakashvili’s miscalculations have provided an opportunity to shift the balance of power and strengthen Moscow’s security posture in the region.
Finally, we have second significant shift and new or current the region’s security pattern that has been emerged as result of the Russo-Georgian war. Russia, as result of the war, was able significantly to strengthen its position and influence. Moreover, Russia demonstrated to global and regional powers that the South Caucasus (like a whole CIS) is Russian “near abroad” and Moscow has exclusive rights to use the force and manage the situation in accordance with Russia’s interests. The war provided to Russia a brilliant opportunity to retake strategic initiative and enforce Moscow's strategic position in its immediate neighborhood. And now, Georgian and Ukrainian movement toward NATO membership is abandoned from the agenda. Some scholars directly emphasize: “Western actors have in practice been forced to recognize Russia’s military dominance in the region and act only in areas approved by Russia and within the limits set by Russia” (27).

As logical continuation of the current strategic opportunity, Russia (two years later) extends the lease of military base in Armenia through 2044 (28). This is next significant Russia’s step to utilitize success after the war with Georgia and, so, to strengthen its positions in the region.
Iran, which is against any Western military presence in the region, did not express any statements against Russia’s extension to lease a base. So, Tehran’s silence means an approval for such developments.

Meanwhile, Russia accelerates its role to negotiate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (29). Obviously, Russia is capitalizing its advantages, coming as result of Russo-Georgian war and tries to arrange pro-Russian security order. Finally, we can state that now the pendulum is on the Tehran-Moscow axis’ side.
However, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last visits to the South Caucasus ensures the United States engagement to the ongoing hard rivalry in this strategic part of the world (30, 31).

Undoubtedly, Russia’s strong positions mean that neither the USA nor NATO will able to deploy military bases in close vicinity of the Iranian border. The continuation of Russian dominance, therefore, has a strategic significance for Iran’s foreign and security policy and is beneficial for both Tehran and Moscow because of their close strategic priorities in the South Caucasus:
- Counter and reduce US influence;
- Opposes US, NATO and EU current and long-term objectives;
- Contain EU influence and oppose to EU’s strategic initiatives;
- Prevent the deployment of US or NATO military bases;
- Oppose Israeli cooperation with Georgia and Azerbaijan;
- Stop Georgian and Azerbaijani drift toward NATO/EU membership;
- Arrange security order in accordance with Iran’s (and Russia’s) strategic interests;
- Ensure control over Caspian energy resources and their transportation routes;
- Contain rising influence of Turkey and Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance;
- Prolong Turkey-Armenia hostility;
- Oppose to the long-term strategic cooperation in Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan triangle;
- Keep strategic balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia and so, contain Azerbaijan’s rise to regional power;
- Support Russia’s leading role in Caucasian and Caspian affairs and so, ensure current "status-quo"
Finally, it is beneficial for Iran to keep status-quo and support Russian dominance. Iran, in this case, is able to ensure its paramount strategic goal: to limit or decrease U.S. influence and, so, to prevent America’s attempts to redesign the region’s political landscape and secure Washington’s dominance.

Iran’s bilateral relations with local countries
It is necessary to note that bilateral relations with the South Caucasus sates are a priority line in Iran’s foreign policy to deal with border countries. The cooperation with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia is powerful tool to strengthen Iran’s influence and political significance for local and global actors. The bilateral relation’s expansion could partially compensate Iran’s limited capacity, originates from Tehran’s regime nature, to participate in huge international projects that are currently implemented in the South Caucasus and Caspian basin as well. Moreover, Iran considers state-to-state relations as an effective approach to keep strategic balance between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.
Within the last decade, Azerbaijan was able to increase its political, economic and military mighty and now “the balance of power in the region shifted in favour of Azerbaijan” (32). Moreover, some European scholars argue to consider Azerbaijan as a key country in the region and call to focus or recalibrate EU policy on Azerbaijan instead of Georgia (32).

Undoubtedly, Iran clearly understands Azerbaijan’s strategic importance and tries to keep “on track” the dialogue with Baku. Tehran significantly intensifies high-level contacts and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad several times paid official visits to Baku to discuss the region’s agenda.

Azerbaijan’s raising power and its long-term cooperation with the USA/EU and Israel is a great concern for Iran. Some experts argue that Iran prefers to see Azerbaijan remain involved in the conflict with Armenia. In this case, as scholars believe, Azerbaijan will be “unattractive for Iran’s Azerbaijanis and unable to allocate resources to stir-up “South Azerbaijan” (33). Iran supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, but provides large scale economic assistance to Armenia. Interestingly, Iran, as Shia state, implements so called “double track” policy toward the Republic of Azerbaijan (87% are Shi'a Moslems). Tehran, possibly, considers the “double track” policy as an effective approach to contain the Republic of Azerbaijan which is becoming a new regional power. Moreover, Iran’s decision-makers suppose that Azerbaijan’s involvement in the conflict with Armenia is effective to contain Turkey and Turkey-Azerbaijan strategic alliance that covers energy, transportation, economic, political and military issues.

Meantime, the prolongation of Turkish-Armenian hostility is an important element in Tehran’s calculations to keep Ankara under pressure and limit the projection of Turkish power on the South Caucasus and Central Asia. From other side, the Turkish-Armenian hostility increases Tehran’s strategic significance for Armenia and Russia.
Finally, Iran is capitalizing political and economic advantages from the current deadlock situation in relations between Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance and Armenia. The main economic benefits are: - to keep Iran as a valuable exporter for Armenian market; and - vital transportation route that links Armenia with Iran's Persian Gulf ports.

Meantime, political advantages are huge: - to counterbalance Azerbaijan's alliance with Turkey; - to reorganize Tehran’s image and facilitate a US-Iran rapprochement via Armenian Diaspora’s assistance. And this point is a key strategic element for Tehran to keep relation with Erevan on track.
Georgia, it is necessary to note that Iran kept silence at the Russo-Georgia war of 2008. Some scholars consider that “behind Iran's official silence is a combination of factors. These range from Iran's common cause with Moscow against expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), interpreting this crisis as a major setback for NATO's "eastward expansion" in light of the unabashed pro-West predilections of Tbilisi's government, to Iran's sensitivity to Russia's national security concerns” (34). Notwithstanding Iranian position in Georgia’s crisis, the Iran-Georgia relations are now under fast development. So, according to Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze: “Our relations have entered a new phase”. And on the joint news conference in Tbilisi on 27 May 2010, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast (with deputy minister’s rank) added that Georgia and Iran intend to resume direct airline flights, cancel visa requirements for travelers, open an Iranian consulate in Batumi. Moreover, as he has mentioned, the Iranian side “unconditionally supports Georgia’s territorial integrity” (35).

The same position Iran expresses on Azerbaijan territorial integrity. Baku and Erevan feel some mistrust toward Tehran because of Iran has huge Azeri population but supports Armenia. However, Tehran tried to mediate a peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan (13). Finally, Iran is playing its own game in a classic Persian style: to balance between rivals and secure its own interests.
Conclusions
As the world’s oil and gas dependency is rising, so the safe and regular energy supplies will continue to occupy a high priority in world powers’ strategic agenda. In this light, the export of Caspian energy, it is well-known, is an alternative to the Persian Gulf energy. Within the last 15 years, the West has invested billion dollars to explore, develop and transport Caspian energy bypass Russia, which tries to be only one hub to supply oil and gas from the post-Soviet area to the world market.

 The Clinton administration and the George W.Bush administration have launched several strategic programs and initiatives oriented to project and secure Western presence and so, to ensure stable energy supplies from the South Caucasus. Unfortunately, the Obama administration does not pay significant attention to the South Caucasus. And the lack of Washington’s attention is beneficial for Iran and Russia but dangerous for America’s stakes in the region. The decline of Washington’s strategic attention creates an opportunity for Tehran-Moscow axis gradually to push out the USA from the region and regain a full control over Caspian resources.
The continuation of US-Iran tensions means that Iran will continue to be oriented on Russia. And Iran will support Russia’s strategy to keep region’s “frozen conflicts” active. Because, it is better to keep local conflicts unresolved and wait for the further opportunity to establish finally pro-Russian-Iranian order than to allow the United States to solve the conflicts and create pro-Western security order.

From other hand, Tehran’s decision-makers clearly understand that the insecurity in the South Caucasus threats to Iran. So, Iran will try to escape any involvement into “frozen conflicts” and minimize or eliminate any threat of conflicts in the Central Asia. The continuation of insecurity in the South Caucasus could directly affect to Iran’s internal politics. Moreover, the military operations in the close vicinity of Iranian borders represent a serious threat to Iran’s security. If a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia will break out, so the behavior of huge Iran’s Azeri population will unpredictable. In addition, it will unclear the possible reaction of Iran’s Azeris regarding the current Tehran’s regime which could fall.
"We are very concerned about security in the Caucasus region, it is a rather sensitive topic for Tehran, so we are ready to take part in solving the problematic issues in the region," said Iranian Foreign Minister Monuchehr Mottaki in Tbilisi at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister of Georgia Grigol Vashadze (38).

However, we can see that Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus has a strategic dilemma: to keep status quo and, so, to counter Western influence; or to facilitate the settlement of conflicts and secure peace and stability along Iranian borders.
Undoubtedly, a stabilized South Caucasus would be an optimal environment to ensure the Caspian energy’s stable supply to Western markets. And the United States has great stake in the region and Caspian oil business that obligate Washington to secure peace and stability in the region.

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23- Ozan Örmeci, Caspian Weekly: Turkey's Role in the Organization of Islamic Conference, JDP Government and the Greater Middle East Project, May 29, 2010, Council on Foreign  relations, http://www.cfr.org/publication/22373/caspian_weekly.html ;
24- Pyotr Goncharov, RIA NOVOSTI, 04/05/2005, US in Caspian Region and Russia’s Position, opinion & analysis, http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20050504/39817504.html?id= 
25-Gulnara Ismailova, Azerbaijani Presidential’s visit to Iran Again Postponed, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Analyst, http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/448 ;
26-Fariz Ismailzade, The Geopolitics of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Centre for World Dialogue, GLOBAL DIALOGUE Volume 7, Number 3–4, Summer/Autumn 2005—The Volatile Caucasus, http://www.worlddialogue.org/content.php?id=354 ;
27-Krzysztof Strachota, cooperation with Wojciech Gorecki, The Southern Caucasus and Central Asia after the Russian-Georgian War – the geopolitical consequences, September 24, 2008, Center for eastern Studies, Poland,  www.osw.waw.pl
28- Russia extends lease on military base in Armenia through 2044, RIA Novosti, 20 August 2010, http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20100820/160276128.html ;
29-Leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia discuss Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in Russia, 27 October 2010, RT-Russia Today TV Channel,   http://rt.com/Politics/2010-10-27/azerbaijan-armenia-russia-karabakh.html ;
30- Clinton’s Caucasus Campaign Gains Tepid Results, July 5, 2010, Eurasianet.org, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61464
31- Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests, Jim Nichol, Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs, Congressional Research Service (CRS), September 16, 2010, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33453.pdf ;
32-Stefan Meister, Recalibrating Germany’s and EU’s Policy in the South Caucasus, DGAP analyse, July 2010,N2, http://aussenpolitik.net/themen/eurasien/kaukasus/recalibrating_germany-s_and_eu-s_policy_in_the_south_caucasus ;
33-Brenda Shaffer, Iran’s Role in the South Caucasus and Caspian Basin: Diverging Views of the U.S. and Europe, Belfer Center, Harvard University, July 2003, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/ ;
34-Kaveh Afrasiabi, Iran gambles over Georgia's crisis, August 16, 2010, Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JH16Ak01.html ;
35- Vladimir Socor, Georgia Develops Functional Relations With Iran, Georgian Daily, May 27, 2010, http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18724&Itemid=132
36-Marcel de Haas, Current Geostrategy in the South Caucasus, January 06, 2007, Eurasianet.org; http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/pp010707.shtml ;
37- Mina Muradova, Iran Seeks Role in Karabakh Settlement, March 18, 2010, John Hopkins University, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Analyst, http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/5291
38- Trend News Agency, November 11, 2010, FM: Iran stands ready to play 'significant role' in resolving conflicts in Caucasus, http://en.trend.az/print/1776791.html

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