According to upstream documents and the approach of decision-makers at the highest levels of the system, neighboring countries are the main priority in expanding foreign relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Muslim countries, developing countries and countries that can meet one of the important economic, military and technological needs of our country, are in the next priority group of foreign relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, respectively.
But why the expansion of bilateral and multilateral relations with neighboring countries in various fields is the first priority of the country’s foreign relations is mainly due to the capacities and opportunities that exist easily and cheaply in the neighborhood. Common historical, cultural ties and the common destiny of neighboring countries in the field of security and stability and the entanglement of national interests are other important issues that make neighborly relations important.
Paying attention to the neighbors from the past, and especially since the inauguration of Mr. Raeisi’s government, has been seriously placed on the agenda of the country’s foreign policy. The approach that the Islamic Republic of Iran is currently pursuing towards neighboring countries is to promote regional cooperation through “maximum interaction with neighbors” and “peripheral trade”.
The Islamic Republic of Iran shares borders with 15 countries, of which 13 are Muslim countries and 4 countries have a Shiite majority. The “Republic of Azerbaijan”, as one of the Muslim neighboring countries with a Shiite majority, has enjoyed a special importance and position in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran since independence (1991). The Republic of Azerbaijan is the second largest Muslim country in terms of population, which is adjacent to the four provinces of Iran. It is also the link between the Islamic world and the Christian world.
During the past three decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran, due to its deep historical, cultural, ethnic, religious and neighborly ties with the Republic of Azerbaijan, has always tried to expand its relations with that country. This approach has been emphasized by the Islamic Republic of Iran even in recent years, when the Baku government distanced itself from the principles and requirements governing neighborly relations. From the point of view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, friendly relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan are of special importance for various strategic, economic, energy, transit, and so on. At the same time, the Islamic Republic of Iran is very important for the access of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman for various reasons, including its geopolitical position.
The relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have experienced many ups and downs in the past three decades, which have not met the expectation of a completely favorable and beneficial relationship between the two sides. The level of trade that exists between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan is not in the dignity of the relations between the two countries with 700 km of common border and being in a field of civilization, culture, language and religion.
Examination of the customs statistical data of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its comparison with the foreign trade data of the Republic of Azerbaijan shows that during the past 11 years, the volume of bilateral trade decreased from 609 million dollars in 2008 to about 502 million dollars in 2011, to 442 million dollars in 2014, 405 million dollars in 2016, 351 million dollars in 2017 and reached 438 million dollars in 2017, and of course this trend has continued to decline in the past two years. To understand the trade volume of the two countries, it is enough to know that according to the foreign trade statistics of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the volume of imports of that country was close to 11.5 billion dollars which, with Iran’s exports of 417 million dollars to that country, the share of Iranian goods in the market of the Republic of Azerbaijan is less than 4%.
The low level of trade relations between the two countries has several reasons, an important part of which should be sought in the influential regional and transregional variables. The legal regime of the Caspian Sea, ideological differences, ethnic-linguistic faults, the Karabakh conflict and, most importantly, the special relations of the Republic of Azerbaijan with the Zionist regime, the United States and NATO and the efforts of some rival countries, including Saudi Arabia, to expand influence in the Republic of Azerbaijan are important variables that have affected political and economic relations between the two countries and made it difficult to achieve strategic relations in the dignity of the neighborhood.
These cases, which are also common in the field of international relations, should not act as an “obstacle” or a “”destructive factor” in the expansion of strategic relations between the two Muslim and neighboring countries. In particular, Iran’s view of the Republic of Azerbaijan as one of the important Muslim and neighboring countries is beyond the usual views and in the direction of maintaining, deepening and expanding bilateral relations to a strategic level. Contrary to the utilitarian approach of some actors in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a fraternal, transnational, long-term and strategic view of “neighborly relations”. Although governments are influential in determining the direction and quality of Iran’s foreign policy toward other countries, they are certainly not the main determinants with regard to its neighbors, especially those with deep civilizational-cultural ties.
For example, at some point after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran, without any expectations, sent wheat to Turkmenistan, which was in severe shortage of food and some basic goods, provided gas to Georgia through pipeline, which had no gas in the cold winter cold, or provided advisory assistance to the Republic of Azerbaijan, which was at war with Armenia over Karabakh. Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite its potential costs, supports its neighbors and friends who face problems and crises in the areas of national security and territorial integrity and other domestic and regional issues.
In the international relations of countries that are independent and do not depend on regional and transregional powers, there are reliable neighbors for whom nothing can be a reliable alternative. In this regard, the neighborhood with the Islamic Republic of Iran is a unique opportunity for the Republic of Azerbaijan in achieving strategic interests.
And the final point is the focus of the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan on the Zionist regime in the field of foreign relations. While this may present opportunities for that country in the short term, it is certainly a threat in the medium term because, first, Tel Aviv’s view of the region is a “tactical” and utilitarian policy. Secondly, the Republic of Azerbaijan is a Muslim country with a Shiite majority; therefore, in the short term, they will ideologically and socially confront the currents that link the national interests of that country with the Zionist regime. But regarding the presence of the Zionist regime, not only near the northern borders but also in the periphery of the Islamic Republic, Tehran has a decisive and clear policy; this issue is considered one of the main “red lines” of national security and foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is “unacceptable.”