Georgia should reject stereotypes in respect of Iran and build more pragmatic relations with this “important neighbor” in the region, Georgian analysts say after meeting with Iranian officials.
The Tbilisi-based think-tank, Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS), hosted a closed-door roundtable discussion on Georgian-Iranian relations on June 19-20. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi was in Tbilisi to participate in the event, which was an initiative of the Iranian side.
Civil.Ge spoke with some of the Georgian pundits participating in the discussions on June 20.
Temur Iakobashvili, GFSIS Executive Vice-President:
During the meeting both sides overcame particular stereotypes, resulting in better communicate and understanding.
It was very interesting for us to hear that Iran does not dramatize the U.S.-Georgian strategic partnership. They say that Turkey had similar relations with the United States; and it did not harm Iran.
Iran, however, seems to be concerned about the possibility of Georgian territory being used, for example, in a U.S.-led anti-Iranian campaign.
It was interesting to listen to the Iranian officials’ comments about the Qabala radar station. [Russia offered the U.S. use of the station for a joint missile defense project, as an alternative to U.S. plans for a missile shield based in Europe. Qabala radar station in Azerbaijan is leased by Russia]. The Iranians said that they were surprised at how one could offer something that is not theirs. They [the Iranians] don't think it was a serious proposal.
The fact that we are friends with the the United States does not mean that we should not talk to Iran. On the contrary, we can become a bridge that will connect these two states.
Iran’s attitude towards Georgia’s possible NATO membership is quite neutral, as it thinks that this issue should be decided by Georgia and it does not pose any threat to them.
I think Iran’s view of the EU’s role in our region is very interesting. Iran welcomes the EU’s increasing role and it supports Georgia’s rapprochement with Europe.
It was also noted during the roundtable discussions that we should seriously start thinking about cooperation in the energy sphere.
Everyone knows of the U.S. position, whereby it recommended we refrain from long-term energy cooperation with Iran. However, I do not think that the United States supports Georgia’s dependence on Russian energy resources. Washington welcomes Georgia’s energy security, envisaging diversification of energy supplies.
On the other hand, cooperating in the energy sector should not be limited to gas only. For example, Iran can help us develop a wind power industry.
This meeting has confirmed that there is a lot of room for bilateral economic opportunities and cooperation.
Georgian-Iranian relations should not remain static; they should become more pragmatic.
Archil Gegeshidze, a senior fellow at GFSIS:
This roundtable discussion helps us to better understand each others' positions and to better explore the potential of bilateral relations.
Unfortunately, now we have a huge gap between the actual and potential relationship. The problem is that we do not know each other properly, despite having a centuries-long relationship.
The international political situation offers us the opportunity to forge stronger ties. Although Georgia and Iran have absolutely different roles and places in this international political arena, I don't see why we can't create synergies through intensive dialogue.
In certain cases Georgia can even play a role in mediating between Iran and the United States. But, of course, I do not mean that Georgia can become a permanent mediator.
It is important to mention that when the decision about boosting Georgia’s military presence in Iraq was being made, the Georgian authorities consulted with the Iranian side, which, I think, was the right decision. The Iranian side has also welcomed this as a positive step.
There is huge potential in economic terms. Iran has enormous energy resources; Georgia is and will be in desperate need of energy resources and Georgia will need a reliable partner in terms of energy security.
Discussions also involved issues related to the necessity to increase coordination within international organizations. So there is an understanding from both sides that there is a need to further strengthen bilateral ties.
Irakli Menagarishvili of Georgian Council on Foreign Relations (GCFR); former foreign minister (1995-2003):
Georgian-Iranian relations have very deep roots. Currently, we have no defined relations with Iran; but from the long term perspective, Iran may be a very serious partner for Georgia and it is our regional neighbor. I believe we should develop more effective and successful relations with this country.
We, indeed, take into consideration the delicate nature of Iran’s relations with the international community, particularly its unresolved nuclear program. But, at the same time, it is important to maintain a constant dialogue with this country.