IRAN: TEN YEARS IN POST-SOVIET CENTRAL ASIA
Dr. Vladimir MESAMED
Vladimir Mesamed, Representative of the Central Asia and the Caucasus journal in the Middle East (Jerusalem, Israel)
The Soviet Union’s disintegration and the appearance of new states caused a clash of many geopolitical interests on its former territory. The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is behind one of them. Tehran pays particular attention to developing contacts with all newly independent states on the post-Soviet expanse but concentrates mainly on the Central Asian republics. It sees such contacts as a vital necessity and a continuation of cultural and religious interaction of the peoples of Iran and Central Asia that lasted for many centuries. Today, Iran sees stronger positions in the new geopolitical region as one of its aims. It entertained a hope that the ideas of Muslim Brotherhood could be revived among the endogenous Central Asian population and, with them, a pull toward Iran as an authoritative Islamic center.1
It was in the late 1980s and the early 1990s that Tehran elaborated its strategy of cooperation with the region when the Soviet republics displayed a strong tendency toward decentralization. While admitting that the republics should be granted more rights, Tehran still believed that they should be firmly tied to the center: it feared a vast instability zone to the north of its territory if the Soviet Union fell apart. At the same time the Iranian leaders were fully aware that the Soviet Union’s replacement with newly independent states on the political map, the accompanying political and ideological shifts, and the rupture of economic ties that have taken decades to be formed will probably offer Iran a niche there.
When establishing relationships with the region, Tehran wisely abandoned its propaganda of Islamic fundamentalism and export of the Islamic revolution as a short-sighted policy. Indeed, it could produce nothing but rejection or an active opposition by the secular Central Asian governments and a threat to regional stability. This explains why Iranian diplomacy in the region has opted for the tactics of gradual building up of cooperation in all possible spheres to overcome the country’s foreign political and economic isolation and “to lessen the degree of hostility and increase sympathy to Iran.”2
The dialog with the Central Asian states and a revised foreign policy course to make it more pragmatic were launched simultaneously. In May 1997, the country acquired a pragmatically minded president Seyyed Mohammad Khatami. Its foreign policy became even more pragmatic and a trend toward better relations with the West more clearly outlined. This neutralized, to a great extent, the local radicals’ intention to continue their export of the Islamic revolution. The presidential course outlined late in 1997, designed to bring closer cultures and civilizations, acquired more practical features. Relations with the Arab neighbors and some of the Western countries extended. For the first time after the Islamic revolution the Iranian president officially visited Italy, France, and Germany.
Still, Tehran has not been able to get rid of its confrontational attitude toward the United States and the Middle Eastern peace process: it continues its financial and military aid to the Islamic extremist organizations and movements. This stand provides a striking contrast to the positions of Central Asian countries that are doing their best to oppose extremist movements and demonstrating their desire to develop relations with the U.S. as the leader of the world community. In the nineties, after many years of an open confrontation with the United States, there appeared the first signs that Iran’s American policy is acquiring more flexibility and is going beyond the limits of the struggle against “the world’s despotic power.”
This positive shift became obvious in the last years of presidentship of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who had realized that the country needed a more pragmatic approach to foreign political relations, especially with the West. Having made a certain progress in its relations with Western Europe, the country stalled because of the opposition Islamic radicals put up every time there is a desire of a better understanding with the United States. The reformists strengthened their positions when Khatami became president. He formulated a course toward a dialog of civilizations, an alternative of sorts to the export of the Islamic revolution. The course was intended to overcome the country’s political and economic isolation. The statement of December 1997 about an absence of obstacles to a dialog with the United States was acclaimed in both countries. In particular, State Secretary Colin Powell is convinced that the contradictions between the two countries should not rule out their interaction so that to put a dialog between them to a new, and higher, level.3 The ebbs and flows in these relations are nothing more than the background against which the relationships become more active though still lacking adequate dynamics.
The program speech the Iranian president delivered at a special session of the U.N. General Assembly in December 1997 emphasized that Iran wanted to get rid of international isolation as soon as possible. These and other similar statements were immediately refuted by Ayatollah Khamenei, the nation’s spiritual leader, who dismissed them as useless and harmful. The negative elements of the Iranian foreign policy that affect, to a certain extent, the relations with the Central Asian countries are created by the fact that the religious leader enjoys the privilege of control over Iran’s foreign policy. He personifies the extreme conservative wing of the ruling clergy. This lack of balance undermines confidence in Tehran and blocks the positive foreign political trends described by President Khatami as a “course for detente and more profound trust.”
In many aspects the dialog between Iran and Central Asia that is going on and will be discussed below (using Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as examples) demonstrates complete mutual understanding. This is related, first and foremost, to the regional political issues, conflict settlement in the first place, that touch upon the interests of all those involved in the dialog. Iran attracts Central Asia as a unique transit territory where the North-South and East-West routes meet. And during his visit to Bishkek on 5 September, 2001, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that his country regarded stronger ties with the Central Asian states as a priority. He added that these relations were designed to overcome such threats to stability as drug trafficking, organized crime, and the Afghan conflict.4
In its relations with Central Asia Iran relies on the factors that are expected to be favorably accepted in the region, including mutually advantageous economic cooperation. In the early 1990s, Iran launched a consistent advance to the market-oriented economy. The religious leaders who were facing a threat of a sociopolitical outburst caused by the Islamic-oriented strategy had to announce a new course: attraction of foreign investments, wide-scale privatization, liberalization of prices, and stronger economic ties with the developed world’s leaders. Naturally enough, Tehran keeps running against numerous problems because its economy badly needs large capital investments. Labor productivity nearly in all economic sectors is considerably lower than the world’s average. The U.S. sanctions introduced in 1995 and extended for five years in summer 2001 and the state’s excessive involvement in the administration of economy make the situation still worse. The Iranian press has written that the country’s economy was not completely adjusted to the latest economic patterns.5
According to Iranian experts the state’s incomes are very limited and are consistently shrinking.6 The report issued by the Central Bank for 1999 clearly shows that instead of the expected $16 billion foreign currency income the country got only $9 billion. It is hardly wise to stake on oil and gas exports that bring in about 85 percent of the total foreign currency earnings. The President and, lately, Ali Khamenei recognized that the economy was chronically ill.7 This limits Iran’s possibilities of economic cooperation with Central Asia that is turning to the United States.
It should be said that the declared trend toward cultural integration based on many centuries of cultural and civilizational cooperation between Iran and the Central Asian nations is not quite substantiated. Indeed, the Turkic-speaking Central Asia, with the exception of Tajikistan, is not related linguistically to Persian-speaking Iran. This makes spiritual community more probable than possible: the idea of proliferation of the Persian language and Iranian culture is coolly received by the Turkic-speaking population. Being aware that the Central Asian republics are being born anew, the Iranian leaders are out to employ everything the region and their country have in common (and forgotten in Central Asia) through restoring the ties that existed in the past.
Iran also pinned hopes on the confessional unity, yet it cannot be employed in each and every Central Asian state. First, there is no absolute unity since the majority of the local population are Sunnites. On the other hand, the majority of the Central Asian states have not yet acquired a fertile soil for Islam to strike root. Islamic resurrection in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan is slack. In contrast to what is going on in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, these countries have much less new religious schools, they print less religious books, there are less religious institutions there, and a much weaker pull to the holy places.
Islamic resurrection in Uzbekistan is quite tangible: the country celebrates Id-al-Adkha and Id-al-Fitr as official holidays, TV regularly broadcasts Friday prayers, etc. Early in the 1990s Iran was quite satisfied when Islam Karimov, as a true Muslim, started all his public speeches with a traditional Islamic formula: “in the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” On the other hand, the Iranian media respond with indignation to information about repressions against Muslim clergy that lately have started arriving from Uzbekistan with increasing frequency. IRNA, the state information agency, published reports that, according to the Human Rights Watch, Muslims in Uzbekistan had been persecuted for their religious convictions 800 times.8 On 18 August, 2001 Khamshakhri, the Tehran city newspaper with a large circulation, carried an article “Repressions Against Islam in Central Asia Will Create Another Taliban There.” It said, in particular: “The anti-Islamic efforts created seats of resistance in the countryside where the share of believers is very high. Religious activity is becoming clandestine.”
Tehran is doing its best to involve the Central Asian states in those of the international organizations where the Islamic factor is the key one. Such is the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that Iran headed, on the rotation basis, in 1997-2000. Tehran tried to use its post to pass anti-Israeli resolutions at the OIC summits. The Central Asian states did not support these efforts. They do not display much activity in the OIC and prefer a “low-key participation.”9 Iran is trying to dominate in the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), a formally Islamic economic alliance. When the Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan joined it in 1992, it became an authoritative regional intergovernmental structure. Though so far, the Mashhad-Serakhs-Tedzhen railway commissioned in May 1996 remains its only large realized project. Its Central Asian participants said many times that the organization was designed to set up the regional transport infrastructure. Despite this Iran has not abandoned its attempts to make a political organization out of it: at the 1996 summit Tehran called upon the Central Asian countries to cut down their cooperation with Israel. The Uzbek and Kazakh presidents threatened to leave the organization if the pressure on them continued.
Today, the Iranian leaders see cultural and economic cooperation as their tactical objective and, partly, a concerted regional politics. Tehran prefers to remain within the limits of political priorities of the Central Asian countries.
The decade of cooperation between Iran and the Central Asian region as a whole has revealed the priorities and confrontational factors present in each of the Central Asian states. Such factors are prominent in the relations between Iran and Uzbekistan, especially in the political sphere. Tehran negatively responded to Tashkent’s support of the U.S.-imposed economic sanctions against Iran. It was back in 1995 that President Karimov said: “We are aware of the aims of such sanctions and we support them.” Uzbekistan’s neighbors did not support the sanctions. Official Tehran was even more displeased with a decision passed by the joint U.S.-Uzbek cooperation commission in March 1998 to coordinate all its Iran-related steps with the U.S. State Department. The Iranian leaders are not overjoyed with the U.S. decision to regard Uzbekistan as their regional strategic partner. Sharp exchange of opinions between Karimov and the then Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani that occurred at two ECO summits could hardly contribute to whole-hearted relations between Iran and Uzbekistan. The Ettelaat newspaper wrote about this: “Wrangles between the two leaders are the most typical manifestation of the relations between their countries.”10 The series of blasts in Tashkent on 16 February, 1999 deepened the confrontation. The Uzbek authorities blamed the terrorist acts on the Islamic opposition while Karimov connected them with Hezbollah of Iran. In Iran the salvo was interpreted as a course, approved by the United States, toward weakening Iran’s positions in the region.11
The problem of Afghanistan is another sore spot in the dialog between Iran and Uzbekistan. For several years now Tehran has been accusing Tashkent of encouraging Afghan separatists under a pretext of giving large-scale support to General Dustum, an ethnic Uzbek. Convinced that the Taliban pressure to the north would cause another wave of Islamic opposition in his country, President Karimov decided to use Dustum and his armed forces as a buffer to stop the Taliban. On his initiative other regional states joined Uzbekistan in its support. Iran assessed Tashkent’s refusal to attend an international conference on Afghan settlement held in October 1996 in Tehran as non-constructive.
The positions drew closer on the eve of the September terrorist acts in the United States. Foreign Minister of Iran Kamal Kharrazi spoke about this during his visit to Tashkent in September 2001. At his meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abduaziz Kamilov they stated, in the name of their countries, that the world had failed to fully realize the role of Afghanistan as one of the major centers of international terrorism and drug trafficking. They discussed a possibility of practical realization of the bilateral agreement on fighting drugs, organized crime, and terrorism signed in June 2000 during Islam Karimov’s visit to Iran.
The Islamic factor often plays a disintegrating role in the relations between the two countries. The direct bilateral contacts happened at the time when the Uzbek leaders were encouraging Islamic resurrection in their country to use it for purely populist purposes. With time, however, they became awakened to the potential dangers of fundamentalism and political Islam. Tashkent blamed them for the civil war in Tajikistan, one of the closest neighbors. The official course performed a U-turn: encouragement was replaced with repressions first against the Islamic organizations and the Muslim clergy and then common Muslims.
This did nothing to promote further cooperation: official Tashkent believed that its relations with Iran were a channel through which Islamic extremism reached Uzbekistan. Pro-Islamic sentiments in Uzbekistan were increasing and strengthening political Islam, a potential rival of secular powers and the country’s secular option. The authorities did not want an upsurge of pro-Iranian sentiments in Samarkand and Bukhara peopled mainly by Tajiks (the nation close to the Iranians). Though Iran has no intentions to disseminate radical Islam in the region or to export Islamic revolution there, the overreaction from Uzbekistan to what they saw as an Islamic threat gave rise to a very cautious attitude to Iran. This translates into an extremely slow rate of economic cooperation. For several years inadequate laws, unconvertible Som (the Uzbek currency), and the high level of corruption interfered with economic cooperation. Uzbekistan was the last in Central Asia to sign the treaty (initiated by Iran within the ECO) on avoiding dual taxation, introducing preferential customs regime and preferential trade transit. Still, Tashkent used the Iranian territory to export its cotton to the world markets. After seven years of procrastination the treaty on direct flights between Tashkent and Tehran was signed and realized.
Irrigation is another sphere of cooperation, in particular projects on water supply and water purification in which Iran is prepared to invest about $10 million.12 Cooperation in banking and communication is also possible.
In 1993 the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan drew up a program Foreign Policy of Kazakhstan: the Road of Peace that described the relations with Iran as “contacts.” Tehran is of somewhat different opinion about cooperation with Central Asia. This term is seen as an understatement and a desire, prompted from abroad, “not to go higher than the previously determined level.”13 The new foreign policy conception made public in 2001 describes the relations with Iran as a priority, after Russia, China, the United States, Europe, and Turkey. Analysts in Kazakhstan believe that the young state should actively use the Iranian factor when realizing its foreign policy course.14 Tehran, on its part, looks at Kazakhstan as the region’s priority partner.
Interaction on foreign policy issues and mutual understanding on many sensitive problems (Nagorny Karabakh, Afghanistan, political settlement in Tajikistan) brought closer the two countries’ positions. Consultations between them have established that they completely agreed on the central regional issue: a danger of the Taliban territorial expansion. Iran obviously found it important that Kazakhstan condemned the U.S. anti-Iranian economic sanctions as well as its statements to the effect that it did not intend to support similar American actions in future. The bilateral relations with Iran, as well as with other Asian countries, are absolutely adequate to the official strategy proclaimed by Nazarbaev: a switch from an orientation toward a single development model to relations with all countries in the region based on pragmatic interests. This explains diversified economic ties in which Iran has a place of pride. Iran has a share in a number of industrial projects and in modernization of the Caspian port of Aktau. Iran offered a project of oil replacement under which Kazakh oil reached the world markets through the Iranian ports on the Gulf and avoided the American sanctions. On the whole, trade turnover is stable ($200 million in 1999) yet very low in comparison with Germany, Russia, and Turkey. The Jomhurie Eslamie newspaper published in Tehran said: “This volume cannot be regarded as satisfactory at all.”
The Caspian Sea is important in the relations between Iran and Kazakhstan. Iranian policy in the Caspian region is based on two major considerations. First, by taking an active part in elaborating the legal status of the Caspian Sea the country is influencing the geopolitical processes there, and, second, by using the maximum pragmatism conception Iran can defend its national interests consistently and uncompromisingly.
Today, it has become clear that the factor of the Caspian Sea not only unites but also disunites the coastal states: they have been discussing the delimitation of the sea for over seven years. Tehran wants to revise it in favor of the equal sectors of the surface and the seabed for the five coastal states. This will increase the Iranian share.15 Naturally enough, the CIS countries with their longer shorelines do not want this.
Kazakhstan proceeds from the right to develop the Caspian mineral and biological resources and to profit from the transit of energy fuels across its territory. It is the first Caspian state to put forward a draft convention on the legal status of the sea as early as 1994. Kazakhstan and Iran initiated conferences of experts in their capitals to spur on the negotiations on the sea status. On the other hand, as time went on the two countries moved farther away where the division of the sea was concerned. The post-Soviet Caspian states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) agreed that the sea should be divided along the median line. Iran alone wants equal shares, yet it has so far failed to supply an acceptable methodology of such division.
In addition, there is no agreement on such key issues as the regime of the seabed, water mass, biological resources, and ecology. Recently the president of Kazakhstan said that all the post-Soviet Caspian states think nearly identically on all issues while Iran stands opposed to them on a number of questions.16
Tehran painfully responds to all bilateral contacts of the Caspian states about the use of the marine resources. On 1 December, 2001 the Foreign Ministry of Iran made a special statement about the talks between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea status, in which it is said, in particular: “Such steps contradict the principle of consensus and may interfere with a prospect of all-embracing agreements.”17
Confrontation between Iran and Kazakhstan has been intensifying, so far, almost unnoticeably, because of an increased attention of the West, the United States in particular, to the Caspian energy fuels. Iran objects to Western involvement in the development of Caspian fuel resources while all the other Caspian states expect that the West will considerably help them in such development. More than once Tehran accused Astana, which had initiated the principle of demilitarization of the Caspian Sea, of setting up a naval base at Aktau (with an active American involvement) while the legal status of the sea remained unregulated. Iran also accuses Turkmenistan of strengthening its military presence by stationing a flotilla of combat patrol boats.18
Both countries regard their relations as the priority ones, the fact clearly confirmed by figures. The previous Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani met President of Turkmenistan Saparmurad Niyazov 16 times, by turn in Tehran and Ashghabad. The first trip abroad of the present Iranian President Khatami was to Turkmenistan. The sides describe their relations as a pattern to be followed by the rest of the region: “An example of fraternal good-neighborly relations.”19 The simplified visa procedure the countries introduced at their borders provides a striking contrast to the special measures of border control Turkmenistan enacted on 1 September, 1999 for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan prompted by the Islamic militants’ increased activities. Tehran is perfectly suited for the role of Ashghabad’s geostrategic ally and partner. Indeed, it badly needs not only a friendly country across the long border between them but also a country with a long history of confessional and civilizational closeness. Besides, a considerable number of Turkmens are living in Iran along the Turkmenian border. Tehran is concentrating, not without success, on the relations with Ashghabad because it has so far failed to add dynamism to its relations with other Central Asian states. Iran is the fourth among 63 economic partners of Turkmenistan, it has already contributed to dozens of large projects, there are about 150 treaties and agreements between them.
The countries share, to a certain extent, a common approach to the legal status of the Caspian. On several occasions, throughout the years of negotiations, they formed a non-formal tripartite bloc with Russia. Tehran and Ashghabad are convinced that Moscow’s participation makes the bloc stable and improves its prospects. Recently, though, Russia has shown a trend toward the Kazakh and Azerbaijanian position. It seems that in future Turkmenistan will prefer to cooperate with Iran: it needs good understanding with its southern neighbor that is able to offer the best possible access to the world energy fuel markets. Recently, in the course of the discussion of the Caspian problem the president of Iran described the positions of the two countries as “close.”20 Turkmenistan is convinced that Russia is elbowing it aside on the oil markets. According to President Niyazov, his country cannot accept Russia’s main reason for cooperating in the oil and gas sphere. Back in 1995 Rem Viakhirev, the then chairman of Gazprom of Russia, said that the main aim of such cooperation was to prevent the Turkmen citizens from dying of starvation. Tehran has offered real possibilities of exporting gas first to Iran and, later, of moving it further, to the Mediterranean, the Far East, and South-East Asia. The Korpeje-Kord-Kuy gas pipeline commissioned in December 1997 created an alternative to the Soviet pipeline system Central Asia-Center. This put an end to Russia’s monopoly on transit of Turkmenian gas and provided an access to the markets outside the post-Soviet territory. Over 80 percent of the money for the project came from Iran in exchange for three years of free gas deliveries. Ashghabad looked at these conditions as “extremely favorable.”21 This allowed Turkmenistan to realize several other mutually advantageous projects such as a china clay factory, several elevators, a petrol-producing plant in Turkmenbashi, a gas processing plant in Korpeje that is part of the gas transportation system. In 2001 alone 6 billion cubic meters of gas traveled along the new pipeline. This does not exhaust the pipeline’s importance for Turkmenistan: it will be extended across Iran and Turkey to reach Europe. Tehran, in its turn, appreciates the project that allows it to by-pass American sanctions in the oil and gas sector and introduces an element of stability in its rather volatile relations with Turkey.
Starting with 1997 the Turkmenian president has been exhibiting a growing interest in the West. In April 1998 he visited the United States and became even more firmly convinced in the importance of this course. One can even say that Washington has scored several victories in increasing his influence and control in this geopolitically important country. Their full-scale cooperation was launched in the spheres where cooperation with Iran had already been going ahead. Iran cannot rejoice at the rivalry, the results of which are obvious. In December 1997 President Niyazov, speaking at the ceremony of commissioning the Korpeje-Kord-Kuy gas pipeline, said that the Iranian route was economically the best option of fuel export to the West. Upon his return from Washington he described an underwater pipeline across the Caspian in nearly the same terms. This caused serious tension in its relations with Iran: the latter obviously did not want, either from the political or economic points of view, another transport corridor for Turkmen energy fuel with a participation of Iran’s permanent opponent. The Tehran newspaper Abrar wrote: “Turkmenistan should keep in mind that any involvement of non-Caspian states in transportation projects for its oil and gas promise short-term economic advantages. In future it will create nothing but problems.”22 Tehran is equally displeased with Ashghabad’s military contacts with the West, in particular, with its cooperation in the sphere of security and the Partnership for Peace program. President Khatami said at a press conference in Ashghabad: “Stability here is our task—we should not create excuses for aliens to penetrate into our region.”23
The Afghan problem is another sore spot in bilateral relations. Ashghabad periodically alternated between the sides involved in the crisis: it had supported the Northern Alliance as long as General Dustum could protect the Afghan-Turkmen border. In autumn 1998, however, Ashghabad started cooperating with the Taliban as the most influential force in the country. It boycotted the Almaty summit of October 1996 that discussed the Afghan problem, and objected to the line agreed by the other Central Asian states, Russia, and Iran that looked at the Taliban as a serious security hazard. It was at that time that President Niyazov spoke about the Taliban as an integrating and stabilizing force able to overcome ethnic squabbles in Afghanistan. In his desire to start a dialog with the Taliban Niyazov thought about his country’s economic priorities. He ignored the fact that the other regional states supported international isolation of this fundamentalist movement. In particular, in 1998 the Taliban, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan formed a tripartite commission to realize a project of a pipeline stretching from Dauletabad in Turkmenistan to the town of Multan in Pakistan. It must have crossed Afghanistan, the areas controlled by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Iranian position is negative: as soon as the so far postponed project is realized it will provide an alternative gas route and damage the Iranian interests connected with the newly-launched joint project of a main gas pipeline to India.
There is another cloud in the relations between Tehran and Turkmenistan created by the harsh state control of the religious life in Turkmenistan. Niyazov explains its necessity by the need to prevent Islamic fundamentalism and politization of Islam. Iranian press wrote many times about repressions against the Muslim clergy in Turkmenistan.24
In the recent years the rates of cooperation among Iran and Turkmenistan have somewhat slowed down.25 The programs of Iranian studies are being removed from the curricula of higher educational establishments in Ashghabad. For example, in 1996 and 1997 the Free University set up with Iranian help enrolled 20 and 25 students, respectively, to study the Persian language. In the two following years the department admitted no new students while in 2000 enrollment was renewed on a much smaller scale. The same applied to the Makhtumkuli University.26 This can hardly be described as a trend, since Iran is still regarding its relations with Turkmenistan as the priority ones.
In the wake of 11 September the world was forced to take a fresh look at the threat of terrorism. The events created a seat of tension in the relations between Iran and Central Asia. Having officially condemned the terrorist acts in New York and Washington, Iran refused to join the anti-terrorist coalition and to help the United States in its operation of retribution.
Two days later, when speaking at a Friday prayer in the mosque of Tehran University, the former president and Chairman of the Assembly of the Islamic Order Hashemi Rafsanjani specified the country’s position: Iran was prepared to take part in the international coalition if the U.N. headed the operation. According to him, Iran was prepared to contribute to the success of the common anti-terrorist struggle but the United States “should not impose its will on others.”27 Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi interpreted Iran’s position in the same way.28
President Nazarbaev explained the position of Kazakhstan in a telephone conversation with President Bush on 26 September, 2001; at a meeting with State Secretary Colin Powell on 28 September, 2001 Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov expressed his country’s readiness to support the anti-terrorist action in all possible ways.
Uzbekistan took an identical position. It allowed the U.S. air force to use the airfield in Khanabad (Kashkadaria Region) for transport aviation and agreed to take part in the humanitarian program. Before extending military support to the American action Tashkent wanted guarantees of its own security within the agreement on cooperation in anti-terrorist struggle.29 There are forecasts of Uzbekistan’s possible involvement in the anti-terrorist coalition.30
Uzbekistan is the most active participant in the anti-terrorist coalition in the region, there are certain aims behind this eagerness. It hopes that the West will soften its position on the human rights violations in the republic and that there will be economic aid. There is a possibility that the United States will increase its stake on Uzbekistan as its military and political pillar in the region. This will do nothing good to the latter’s relations with Iran.
Turkmenistan supports the idea of an international anti-terrorist coalition. At the same time President Niyazov has said: “Neutral Turkmenistan will not allow to move armaments across its territory and will not let anybody use its military bases.”31
Iran’s active opposition to the anti-terrorist act that has become noticeable recently may negatively affect its relations with Central Asia. So far, one can say that in the 10 years of the region’s independent development the countries have fairly clearly identified their geopolitical interests. Tehran is visible among other priorities but is not on the top of the list. As for Iran, it pays much more attention to its relations with Central Asia, it is putting the carefully elaborated foreign political conception into practice that stakes on regional cooperation in the political, economic, and cultural spheres and trade. In addition, it provides the Central Asian countries with an outlet to the world markets and a real chance to become part of the global economy. At the same time, the Central Asian countries are doing their best to deal with Iran as an influential regional power in such a way as to avoid any problems when entering into dialogs with other members of the world community. The United States is noticeably strengthening its positions (“control over the situation in the region”). This neutralizes Iran’s political activity and forces the Central Asian countries to shift their political priorities. If the relations between Iran and the United States improve in the nearest future (which is hardly possible), then Iran would be able to raise its cooperation with Central Asia to a qualitatively new level.
1 See: Habibollah Abulhasan Shirasi, Melliyathaye asiaie miane, Tehran, 1992, pp. 336-337.
2 The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. XII, No. 1, Spring 2000, p. 34.
3 See: IRNA, 3 February, 2001.
4 See: KABAR, 5 September, 2001
5 See: Khambastegi, 14 March, 2001.
6 Agence France Presse, 3 August, 1999.
7 See: A.N. Obukhova, “Investitsionnaia situatsia v Irane nakanune 2000 g.” Vostokovedniy sbornik, Moscow, 1999, p. 149.
8 See: IRNA, 12 September, 2001.
9 D. Trofimov, “Tashkent between Ankara and Tehran: Lessons of the 1990s and Outlook for the Future,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 5 (11), 2001, p. 105.
10 Ettelaat, 18 May, 1996.
11 See: Salam, 3 March, 1999.
12 See: Khamshakhri, 8 September, 2001.
13 Salam, 18 March, 1997.
14 See: M.S. Ashimbaev, L.G. Erekesheva, Iran kak budushchaia regional’naia derzhava, Almaty, 2001, p. 29.
15 See: Wang Jiabo, Geopoliticheskaia konfiguratsia kaspiiskoi problemy, Almaty, 2001, pp. 126-127.
16 See: CNA, 16 September, 2001.
17 IRNA, 1 December, 2001.
18 See: Za rubezhom (Israel), 25 September, 2001, p. 14.
19 Neitral’niy Turkmenistan, 9 February, 2001.
20 CNA, 23 August, 2001.
21 Neitral’niy Turkmenistan, 30 December, 1997.
22 Abrar, 7 May, 1998.
23 Resalat, 19 June, 1998.
24 See: Resalat, 15 August, 1999.
25 In 1998 Iran recalled its ambassador from Ashghabad (for more detail, see: A. Maleki, “Iran and Turan: Apropos of Iran’s Relations with Central Asia and the Caucasian Republics,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 5 (11), 2001, p. 96).
26 See: IRNA, 7 September, 2001.
27 Tousee, 30 September, 2001.
28 See: Nouruz, 2 October, 2001.
29 See: Khalk suzi, 6 October, 2001.
30 See: [http://iss.org.il/SNG/uzbekistan.htm].
31 Neitral’niy Turkmenistan, 5 October, 2001