How will Rouhani's visit change Baku-Tehran ties?
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani paid an official visit to Azerbaijan on March 28-29.
On March 28, Rouhani and the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev held a one-on-one meeting and a meeting in an expanded format with the participation of the two countries’ delegations.
A ceremony to sign 8 documents between Azerbaijan and Iran took place after an expanded meeting with participation of the presidents. A memorandum of understanding on the joint development of blocks in the Caspian Sea between the Azerbaijani Energy Ministry and the Iranian Oil Ministry was signed by Azerbaijan's Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov and Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh.
A memorandum of understanding on strengthening cooperation in industry between the Azerbaijani Economy Ministry and the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade of the Islamic Republic of Iran was signed by Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Iranian Industry, Mines and Trade Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari.
Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Minister of Economy and Finance of Iran Masood Karbasian signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between the Economy Ministry of Azerbaijan and the Economy and Finance Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They also signed the "Agreement between Azerbaijan and Iran on Financing the Construction of the Astara-Rasht railway in the Territory of Iran.”
Chairman of the Azerbaijani State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs Hijran Huseynova and Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar signed the "Program of Cooperation between the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan and Iran's Vice Presidency for Women and Family Affairs."
Azerbaijan's Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov and the Minister of Sports and Youth of Iran Masoud Soltanifar signed the "Plan on Implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on Youth and Sports Cooperation between the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Sports and Youth of Iran for 2018-2019."
The Culture and Art Exchange Program for 2018-2021 between the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance was signed by Azerbaijan's Culture and Tourism Minister Abulfas Garayev and Chairman of Iran's Culture and Islamic Communications Organization Abuzar Ebrahimi Turkman.
Health Minister of Azerbaijan Ogtay Shiraliyev and Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi signed the "Program of Activities on the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Healthcare and Medicine between Azerbaijan's Health Ministry and the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of Iran."
On March 29, Ilham Aliyev and Hassan Rouhani attended the Azerbaijani-Iranian business forum was held at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku.
Political scientist Rovshan Ibragimov, speaking with Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that this visit has become the 11th meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Hassan Rouhani at the highest level. "Among these meetings there were four visits of the Azerbaijani President to Iran and now three visits of the Iranian President to Azerbaijan. The number of personal talks between the heads of state demonstrates a stable development of relations between the two countries. It is important to recall that before Hassan Rouhani was elected, Baku-Tehran relations were rather tense, but Iran's foreign policy towards the northern neighbor radically changed under Rouhani and became constructive.Today Iran, like Azerbaijan, pays a loot of attention to the development of regional economic cooperation, which ensures the formation of interdependence between the countries," he pointed out.
"The development of transport projects that are currently being implemented within the framework of the North-South International Transport Corridor plays the key role now. In particular, the construction of the missing railroad in Iran is underway, with Azerbaijan initiating $500 million loan to accelerate completion of the project. Azerbaijan is also investing $60 million in the construction of the station and cargo terminals in Iran's Astara, which will be directly controlled by Azerbaijan for 15 years, after which it will be handed over to Iran. The implementation of all these projects will become an impetus for the development of trade relations not only between our two states, but also with third countries, primarily with India," Rovshan Ibragimov stressed.
"As you know, Azerbaijan always bases its foreign policy on the practice of exchanging visits between the heads of state. In addition, Iran' company İran Khodro is building an auto manufacturing plant in Neftechal with the participation of the Azerbaijani business. Interestingly, that one of the signed agreements was a possible cooperation between the Azerbaijani oil company SOCAR and the State Oil Company of Iran on the joint development of the Caspian Sea oil and gas fields. It is possible to assume that it will be the Araz-Alov-Sharg project, which became the reason for disagreements between the countries in 2001. Iran does not have the necessary infrastructure for field development in the Caspian, and Azerbaijan is interested in resuming development, so Hassan Rouhani's visit to Baku was completed on a positive note," he concluded.
The head of the Iranian section of the Center for the Study of Countries at the Middle East of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the RAS, Nina Mamedova, in turn, stressed that for Iran it is important to expand relations with Azerbaijan for a number of reasons. "It is very important for Rouhani to find those strings that would connect the two countries, the main one of which is the implementation of the North-South project. As a result, what has economically combined Azerbaijan and Iran has made their relations more meaningful. Moreover, the cooperation of the two countries in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and in the Caspian Sea, is very important. It's not accident that Rouhani visited Turkmenistan before that - the logic of his visits shows that progress in the determination of status of the Caspian can be expected," she believes.
"Border trade and Azerbaijan's position on the free zone between Russia and Iran are of great importance as well. The combination of the interests of the free zone in northern Iran and Iranian Azerbaijan makes Baku and Tehran even more interested in strengthening constructive relations. In addition, Iran is increasingly interested in strong regional ties with its neighbors, and therefore President Hassan Rouhani is really interested in personally visits to Azerbaijan and holding negotiations for additional stabilization of the Iranian-Azerbaijani relations. Iran's government has just come out of the budget and social crisis and needs to consolidate its position in the region, especially in the context of the Trump administration's aggression," Nina Mamedova summarized.