Staunton, February 7 – During his stop in Yerevan in the course of his visits to Moscow, Tbilisi, and Baku, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran opposes any change in the existing borders in the South Caucasus but supports recognition of the ethnic rights of all nationalities there.
On the one hand, this position puts Iran squarely within the paradox that the Minsk Group states have long been confronted with because they too declare their support for both principles. But on the other, this statement suggests Iran is worried about any change in the status of the Armenian land bridge to Iran separating Azerbaijan from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan autonomy.
The November declaration called for the opening of a Russian-guarded corridor between the two, giving Baku a victory that it very much wanted but raising expectations and sparking fears that Azerbaijan might seek to broaden and deepen that pathway and project its own sovereignty over it.
Zarif’s comments in Yerevan indicate, Ida Sarkisyan, a Russian analyst of the region who is of Armenian origin, that any such move would be “a red line” as far as Iran is concerned and will be actively opposed by Tehran, something Armenians clearly want to hear (casp-geo.ru/perspektivy-irano-armyanskogo-sotrudnichestva-v-novyh-regionalnyh-realiyah/).
The Iranian foreign minister also pushed Armenia to agree to expand its rail links with Iran via Nakhichevan because building a new line through what is now Armenian territory between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan is apparently something that isn’t going to happen because the difficult topography makes it too costly for the governments or outside investors to consider.
According to Sarkisyan, Zarif repeated his call for including Iran in talks about the region’s future, something Western governments oppose but that Armenia and perhaps Russia will now back because Tehran could serve to counter-balance the growing influence and power of Turkey, something they oppose.
It is clear that Iran’s role in all this is likely to be decided by how effective it is in promoting an Armenian route across Nakhichevan, something the November declaration calls for and that both Tehran and Yerevan support, the Russian specialist on Iran says. She points to another move on this chessboard that has received less attention.
Several days before Zarif arrived in Yerevan, Armenian economics minister Vahann Kerobyan visited Tehran where, according to press reports, he discussed rail projects and signed a memorandum of cooperation concerning the expansion of economic links, something Armenia and Iran could both benefit from but that also affects the geopolitics of the region.