On May 20-24, a delegation of Tehran journalists, led by the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast (with deputy minister’s rank), visited Georgia. The group included journalists from Iranian radio and television channels, news agencies, and print media, both state-owned and private. Mehmanparast and Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze, signed a memorandum on cooperation and exchanges of information between the mass media to facilitate mutual comprehension between the two societies.
“Our relations have entered a new phase,” Kalandadze announced at the joint briefing Georgia and Iran intend to resume direct airline flights, cancel visa requirements for travelers, open an Iranian consulate in Batumi (in addition to Tbilisi), and hold a joint economic forum in Tehran. The Iranian side “unconditionally supports Georgia’s territorial integrity” (Georgian Public TV, May 22).
Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, received Mehmanparast to discuss an official visit by his Iranian counterpart, Manoucher Mottaki, to Georgia, planned for July, to be followed by a visit of Georgian Prime Minister, Nika Gilauri, to Tehran, possibly for an inaugural session of a bilateral economic commission. The Iranians suggested capping these exchanges with a visit by their President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Tbilisi; the Georgian side, however, deems this suggestion “premature at this stage” (Civil Georgia, Rustavi-2 TV, May 21-24).
According to Kalandadze at the concluding briefing, development of Georgia-Iran relations “in no way means a shift in Georgia’s foreign policy, nor does it conflict with its priority goals of integration with the European Union and NATO….We are in constant dialogue with the United States, our strategic partner, and we do not expect any problems there.” At the same time, “based on our country’s national interests…we seek good relations with all the states in the region, Iran being one of the strong regional states” (Civil Georgia, May 24).
Vashadze’s little-noticed, one-day working visit to Tehran in January was a precursor to this latest development. Meeting with Ahmadinejad, Mottaki, and Parliamentary Chairman, Ali Larijani, on that visit, Vashadze had urged Iran to abide by the non-proliferation treaty so as to benefit from nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Similarly, Vashadze spoke of the need for confidence-building between Iran and its critics (Civil Georgia, January 18, 19).
In Turkey’s wake, Georgia has now also joined the growing ranks of countries seeking to defuse the US-Iran confrontation. Georgia is vitally interested in helping to de-escalate a situation that gives Russia geopolitical leverage against the US through the UN Security Council sanctions process. Georgia is the only country to have been considered by informed observers as a possible object of trade-offs in that context. Apart from this worst-case scenario from Georgia’s standpoint, the second-worst is US prioritization of Russia and corresponding de-prioritization of the South Caucasus, resulting in a security vacuum there. Along with Georgia, this affects European interests in the transit of Caspian energy supplies.
In common with Turkey and other countries of the region, Georgia feels that it cannot afford to bear the impact of economic sanctions on Iran. Georgia’s successful development, interrupted by the global economic crisis, would suffer another setback from sanctions on Iran, let alone a possible military confrontation. The impact (unlike the recent economic crisis) could extend well beyond the duration of a business cycle. In this situation, Georgia is drawing closer to regional power Turkey, sharing Ankara’s goal to defuse the situation through engagement with Tehran.
This explains Georgia’s sigh of relief following Erdogan’s apparently successful mission to Tehran. However, an Iranian failure to abide by the Turkish-brokered, nuclear fuel swap agreement, would trigger another cycle of confrontation and push for sanctions. The risks and consequences could then escalate beyond Georgia’s, Azerbaijan’s, Turkey’s, and even the West’s ability to control.a<iframe src=’http://www.jamestown.org/jamestown.org/inner_menu.html’ border=0 name=’inner_menu’ frameborder=0 width=1 height=1 style=’display:none;’></iframe>