Iran, Georgia and the West

Aug 20, 2012 12:00 AM

by Madona Gasanova

Georgian-Iranian bilateral economic relations are expected to continue to develop until such time as Iran and the West’s conflict deepens and comes to military confrontation.
The country which has occupied Georgia several times in the past, but also supported it in battles against Russia is now considered one of its main trade partners.

The number of Iranian tourists to Georgia is growing and many Iranians are investing in real estate, meanwhile the Georgian market is flooded with Iranian-made products including electronics and food. Visitors to Tbilisi are often surprised to see Iranian, Israeli and US flags flying together in front of a small hotel in Ortachala, a central district of Tbilisi.
“Iran’s conflict with the West is an important factor in the development of Georgian-Iranian relations in the political sphere,” Ghia Nodia, Chairman at the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, (CIPDD), told.

“It is also a hindering factor in the further deepening of economic relations between the two - in particular due to the international sanctions regime against Iran," he added.
"However, so far it has been possible to maintain the level of economic cooperation, which is important for the development of both countries,” said Ghia Nodia.

“Washington does not want Georgia to be the place where Iranian companies are able to avoid international sanctions,” said John Bass, US Ambassador to Georgia, at the Atlantic Council meeting in Washington on June 13.
Nodia, CIPDD, believes that the aim of John Bass’s statement was to draw a ‘red line’ that Georgia should not cross, so as not to thwart international sanctions.

“Considering Georgian-Iranian economic ties, the danger does exist and requires the attention of the Georgian Government. But Bass’s statement should not be understood as a hint that Iran is indeed using Georgia as a haven for escaping sanctions,” he added.
“Iran can be considered a trade partner of Georgia, which is normal. Iran is not a political or particularly strategic partner of Georgia. International sanctions do not apply to those areas of business which connect Georgia and Iran,” said Giorgi Sanikidze, Full Professor at Ilia State University.

The US State Department has again named Iran the world’s leading sponsor of terrorist activity. Meanwhile economic and tourist cooperation between Iran and Georgia continues to grow.
It was in November of 2010 when Georgia lifted its visa requirements for Iranian citizens, since then the number of tourists flowing into the country from there has tripled, reaching 60,000 in 2011 and 24,000 in the first five months of 2012 alone.

“Georgia recently became an attractive destination for Iranian tourists. We will be witnessing further development of these relations.”
“The increasing number of Iranian restaurants in Tbilisi and Batumi is one of the results of the expansion of tourism. There is real perspective for further growth in this direction in the nearest future,” said Sanikidze, IliaUni.

“We are interested in having close relations with Georgia,” said Bahram Amirahmadian, Assistant Professor in the Department of Russian Studies at Tehran University.
“In the 1990s I was the chairman of the Iran-Georgia friendship association. We like the Georgian nation and there is a substantial historical background between us, both good and bad. Georgia should choose its own way to act in the international arena and have relations with the US at the same time. It is the art of diplomacy that should be implemented,” said Bahram Amirahmadian, Assistant Professor in the Department of Russian Studies at Tehran University.

Iran was supporting Georgia’s movement against Russian occupation in the early XI century. Georgian prince Alexander (Batonishvili) of the Bagrationi family who headed several insurrections against the Russian rule in Georgia between 1800 and 1832 is buried in an Armenian Church in Ghavam Saltaneh Street in Tehran.
Georgia, throughout its history, has several times been annexed by the Persian Empire, specifically under the Achaemenid, Parthian, Sassanid, and Safavid dynasties. Due to this, there has been a lot of political and cultural exchange, and thus Georgia was often considered a part of Greater Iran. This continued until Russia conquered the Caucasus in the 1800s from the Qajars.

Sanikidze, IliaUni, concurred that there is an important cultural and religious difference between the two countries.
“However, Iranian culture is not bizarre to Georgians. I do not think that these factors can have a significant negative influence on partnership,” he said.

“Cultural-religious difference is a factor, but it is far less important than the difference between political systems and orientations. Georgia’s aspiration is to become part of the West. Meanwhile Iran is in the midst of confrontation with the West.”
“At the same time Iran is striving to increase its influence in the Muslim world. In general, Iran is out of the context of international politics and civilization and still searching for its place. While Georgia definitely knows what it wants and its main problem is achieving that goal. Despite all this, the pragmatic interest of both countries is to improve relations in the economic sphere,” said Nodia, CIPDD.

According to Amirahmadian, Tehran University, tourism, communication, transportation, agriculture, horticulture, forest, fishing as well as energy (hydro-energy station building) are among those economic fields in Georgia that Iranians are experienced in and interested in investing in.
“The Iranian market is saturated with rural and agricultural products. The export of mineral and soft drinks to there from Georgia could be considered as having good perspective,” said Sanikidze.

He suggested that before entering the Iranian market Georgian exporters should take into account negotiation processes and the fact that signing a deal often takes more time than one expects.
Amirahmadian agrees that Iran is under the strictest sanctions of Europe and America. But he believes that Iran is a powerful country.

“The population of Iran is 75 mm and we produce more than 120 mm tons of agricultural production annually (1.5 tons per capita). Out of that we produce 18-20 mm tons of fruit. We extract 4 mm barrels of petroleum and refine 1.5 mm barrels daily.”
“Iran has 140 bn proven petroleum reserves and we have 16 % of the world’s natural gas reserves. We are able to live under such sanctions, the only issue is management as we are not experienced enough in this regard. Some disorder will happen in Iran’s economy but we have to resist the situations that oppress us.”

“Iran has rich, skilled and young man-power which is what makes it such a powerful and rich country. I am sure that Iran will be able to survive even despite the strict economic sanctions that are on it at the moment.”
“We have access to free waters, 2,000 km in the South and 700 km in the North, we have coastlines. We are neighbouring 15 countries and have 8,700 km borderlines, so how could anyone make us surrender?” Amirahmadian told.

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