Azerbaijan and Iran

An interview with Nasir Hamidi Zare
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Azerbaijan

November 13, 2008
Baku, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan in the World: What do you see as the central core of relations between Iran and Azerbaijan? 
Ambassador Nasir Hamidi Zare: Bismillahi rehmani rehim.  Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan rest on a variety of political, cultural and economic factors, all of which give a broad range of opportunities for cooperation. 
AIW: How have Azerbaijan-Iran relations evolved in the post-Soviet time?  How would you rate their current level?  What directions in bilateral ties have been most successful and where is additional attention needed? 
Amb. Zare: The Soviet system could not meet the needs of the Azerbaijani people, and consequently they moved to re-establish their own independent state.  Now that Azerbaijan is an independent state, Iran and Azerbaijan are developing relations based on their location and historical commonalities.  Fifteen years is not a long time, but both Baku and Tehran have been working to promote the expansion of our relations.
AIW: How do you view the recent events in Georgia?  Can it trigger the fatal erosion of the fundamental principle of the rule of law in international relations? 
Amb. Zare: The recent conflict in Georgia reflects a continuation of the artificial clash between two poles of power in the world, with each side trying to improve its position at the expense of the other.  I do not subscribe to the notion of bipolarity of the world divided between liberal and illiberal states.  As Iranians, we are members of a flourishing part of the world which is not locked into that worldview. 
AIW: How do you think the recent events in Georgia will affect the further development of relations between Iran and the countries of the South Caucasus in general and with Azerbaijan in particular? 
Amb. Zare: As a diplomat from Iran, I am confident that these countries will move away from an ideological – bipolar - conception of the world and will develop their relations independently with all surrounding countries.  That reflects, and is enabled by, the will of the people as expressed in elections through which they extend the legitimacy to those they elect.
AIW: What is your assessment of Turkey’s recent initiative for the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform?  Do you think it has better potential as a framework for peaceful negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia as compared with the Minsk Group? 
Amb. Zare: Relations among countries should not reflect the desire of other powers to divide the world but should rest on the views of the people who want cooperation.  The more choices people have in seeking solutions to their problems, the greater the chance that they will find one that works.  Azerbaijan acting as an independent country has the right to make its own choice in this regard.  Consequently, Azerbaijan, like Turkey and Iran, must respond on the basis of its own national interests. 
AIW: What is the state of energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran?  What effect did the Georgian events have on this cooperation? 
Amb. Zare: The conflict in Georgia may lead to a change in the flow of oil out of the Caspian basin.  If anyone tries to monopolize those routes, all may suffer in the future.  Azerbaijan and Iran now have the chance to create a new atmosphere of cooperation in this area, one that promotes security generally and energy flows as well.  At the same time, both our countries need to develop industry and not just provide the West with energy resources.
AIW: What are the recent developments within the North-South corridor project, and what is the level of Azerbaijan-Iran cooperation within that framework?
Amb. Zare: By the gift of Allah, Iran is in a geographically advantageous position between north and south and east and west.  It cannot be ignored because you cannot change geography.  Azerbaijan should recognize that a north-south corridor between Russia and Iran is not only about transportation in a narrow sense but involves broader communication as well, including through fiber optic channels and internet.  So, geography dictates its own rules, and recognition of these possibilities will help us expand our relations. 
AIW: Do you see any hurdles that Iran and Azerbaijan will have to overcome in order to improve their relationship? 
Amb. Zare: In general, I do not see any serious problem in our relations.  Those that do exist are survivals from the Soviet past.  The potential exists on both sides to tackle all problems, and we have so far been able to do that.  Because the commitment on both sides is strong, when our presidents meet, they can speak in an open and friendly manner, something that helps solve all problems.  Of course, other countries are not just observers of this process: they try to play tricks.  But we are Muslim brothers, good neighbors, and historic relatives, so we will not go against our mutual interests. 

AIW: What in your view ought to be the next steps in relations between Azerbaijan and Iran? 
Amb. Zare: Our joint economic commission will have its next meeting in Baku.  I hope that this session will lead to an increase in the volume of trade and to new cooperation agreements both between the two governments and among private sectors.     

AIW: Given your own experience, what advice would you give young Azerbaijanis beginning their careers in diplomacy?   
Amb. Zare: I would recommend that young diplomats adopt an independent and critical view, one that is shaped by their own observations rather than by what others attempt to pour into their minds.  Young diplomats must study the world carefully, learn to distinguish between what is truth and what is not.  Believe in your own people and government, and work as a representative of your government for the benefit of your people and humanity as well.