The five Central Asian states, namely Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have two important principles in their foreign policy that are applied in relations with all countries; first is diversity and the second is balancing. These countries are willing to cooperate with Russia, China, Europe and the United States at the level of major powers and at the level of regional powers, Iran, Turkey, India and other countries are in their foreign policy basket. They do not want any power in Central Asia to be the dominant power. In fact, those countries want to balance relations with China through Russia; through China with Russia and through those two countries, with the United States. In the meantime, the field of the Iranian activities in Central Asia can be examined within the same context; therefore, the Central Asian countries do not want to create any bloc against other countries in the region.
In fact, the Central Asian countries are concerned that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization could become an anti-Western bloc or an Eastern NATO; therefore, those five countries have no desire at all to openly confront other countries, regions or other treaties. They are working with the United States as one of their partners, but this cooperation will continue until the time when Washington would not dominate the affairs of all Central Asian countries.
Their relations with China are within the same context; the Central Asian countries separated from the Soviet Union in the 1990s and today, with the exception of Kazakhstan, China is the first trading partner of four other countries. At the same time, Sinophobia has now spread to some extent in Central Asia, so they seek to reduce Beijing’s role.
Under such circumstances, there is a good capacity for the Islamic Republic of Iran to enter into more interaction and cooperation with those countries, taking into account the principle of diversity and balancing mentioned at the beginning of this article. It should be noted, however, that Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan do not want China to replace Russia or the United States, or Iran to replace China. Those countries do not want Iran, Russia and China to enter into cooperation in confrontation with the US influence.
If Iran looks at cooperation with Central Asian countries from this angle, the most important area of cooperation between the parties is in the field of transit, either railroad, road or airlines. Also in the field of agricultural exports, cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Maritime Trade in the Caspian Sea with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan could be placed on the agenda of bilateral cooperation. At the same time, security and law enforcement cooperation in the field of counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism and extremism, especially with a focus on Afghanistan, will be welcomed by Central Asian countries.
Iran can use the existing opportunities in order to strengthen its foothold in Central Asia. We must first assess what percentage of the region’s imports and exports are for Iran. In fact, we must first strengthen our foothold and expand our influence economically.
As a result, the Islamic Republic of Iran can use the principle of balancing and diversification in this region to increase its presence. Under such circumstances, of course, in some areas, cooperation between Iran with Russia and China will be formed.