As international pressure mounts over Iran’s nuclear activities, the Iranian government has intensified its public relations campaign in the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Motaki has been touring nearby states in an attempt to boost Iran’s regional profile and foster bilateral relations with neighboring countries.
On November 9, the Iranian foreign minister visited Turkmenistan, where he met with Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov. On November 12-13, Tehran hosted the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, Igor Ivanov, and the head of Armenia’s Presidential Office, Artashes Tumanxan. During their visit, Ivanov and Tumanxan also met with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani (IRNA, November 12-13).
According to Iran’s official news agency, Tumanxan’s visit was mainly focused on improving bilateral relations and economic cooperation between Iran and Armenia, while Ivanov discussed issues related to the Iranian nuclear program, particularly the Bushehr nuclear power-plant in southern Iran (IRNA, November 12-13).
Ivanov denied reports claiming he had come to Iran to win Tehran’s support for the recent Russian plan that suggested transferring the uranium enrichment phase of Iran’s nuclear program to Russia – a compromise proposal that was supported by the European Union, but rejected by Iran.
Other newspapers argued that Iran was reinforcing the already solid Russia-Armenia-Iran alliance to counter pressure from the United States (Zerkalo, November 26).
The search for allies, however, was not limited to Russia and Armenia. Last week, Motaki flew to Syria and Egypt — both traditionally not friendly with Iran — where he held meetings with the foreign ministers and presidents of both states.
On Monday November 27, Motaki arrived in Azerbaijan for a one-day official visit. While in Azerbaijan, the Iranian foreign minister met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and highlighted the importance of deepening economic relations and implementing previously signed bilateral agreements.
Iran shares a 611-kilometer land border with Azerbaijan and considers its northern neighbor to be a strategically important country in regard to Iran’s national security. Historically, relations between the two countries have been uneasy, especially in light of increased U.S.-Azerbaijan military cooperation and occasionally surfacing reports about the possibility of the United States using Azerbaijan as a launching pad for attacking Iran.
Nonetheless, Baku and Tehran have so far managed to avoid open political confrontation by downplaying some outstanding issues, a sentiment that was visible during Motaki’s visit to Azerbaijan. President Aliyev and Foreign Minister Mammadyarov both underlined Iran’s constructive role in the “stability and security of the region” and praised the improving “political, economic, and cultural” relations between the two states (IranMania, November 29).
Responding to a question from a local journalist about the presence of U.S. radar installations near the Azerbaijani-Iranian border (see EDM, October 13), Motaki said that Iranian-Azerbaijani ties “are not aimed against another country” and that the two countries “would not allow a third state to use them to the detriment of each other,” also hinting at a May agreement signed between the two governments that bans the use of either side’s territory for attacking the other (Echo-Az, November 29).
Of Iran’s nuclear activities, Motaki stated, “Iran is against the production and storage of nuclear weapons…which we do not have.” But he also added, “As any UN-member state, Iran has a right to a civilian nuclear program and no power in the world can take that right away from it” (Echo-Az, November 29).
The Iranian foreign minister arrived in Turkey on Wednesday, November 30. He had served as Iran’s Ambassador to Turkey between 1986 and 1989, but had to leave Ankara after Turkish authorities discovered his alleged involvement in a number of terrorist incidents in the country (Iran Focus, November 27).
The spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hamid-Reza Asefi, stated on November 27 that Motaki’s visits to Azerbaijan and Turkey were “within the framework of Iran’s policy of regional cooperation and that of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government” (IRNA, November 27).
Whatever the new Iranian “policy of regional cooperation” might be, Iran’s recent attempt to increase its contacts with regional states is a part of Iran’s preemptive strategy of avoiding potential isolation. Iran understands that any sanctions against it, especially economic, will ultimately affect the neighboring states that might be reluctant to support them. Thus, Iran is trying to make as many friends as possible in order to evade potential isolation and sanctions, in case the country’s nuclear program is referred to the UN Security Council.