Behind the scene: Georgia warms relations with Iran

Georgia and Iran agreed to eliminate visa restrictions and resume direct flights between Tbilisi and Tehran, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“This new open-border policy comes at a time when Iran — facing a fresh round of European, U.S., and Russian-backed sanctions, internal unrest and an array of external military threats — is desperate for a few friendly faces in its own backyard. But Iran’s new-found friendship has Georgia — the United States’ closest ally in the Caucasus, and the recipient of roughly $4.5 billion in Western aid in the past two years — dancing the diplomatic two-step,” Haley Sweetland Edwards wrote in his article Iran, Georgia: Washington wary of warming ties between Tehran and U.S. ally. But the real question is whether Georgia is really trying to show that it can act according to its own interests and  not the interests of its closest friends, or whether it is just another backstage game; or whether Georgia is doing all the moves in order to become a mediator between Iran and the US.

Georgian president

Alexander Rondeli of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies told Newsweek that Georgia’s motivation for its recent warming of relations with Iran is to broker a deal between the Islamic Republic and the United States.

Georgia, Rondeli said, is frightened that the recent warming of relations between Moscow and Washington – bizarre spy scandals not withstanding – is due to the US’s focus on Iran and risks leaving Georgia isolated. However it does seem rather far fetched to think that Georgia is going to be a big player in finding a solution to the growing tensions between the US and Iran: especially when Saakashvili’s previous comments showed he was way off beam on this issue compared to the US policy position.

According to Rondeli, Georgia’s major reason behind its engagement with Iran is to try to defuse the confrontation between Washington and Tehran, because that animosity gives Russia (whose vote in the Security Council Obama badly needs) so much leverage over Washington—something that frightens Georgia.

“Washington may not be ecstatic about Iran, but, on the pragmatic level, the Americans know that Georgia needs to have good relations with its neighbors,” Rondeli noted. “Iran is right here and you cannot ignore geography,” he said.

The Newsweek reported that the Georgian government issued a robust denial that its flurry of diplomatic outreach to Iran represents a shift in the state’s policies.

Deputy foreign minister Nino Kalandadze said the strengthened relationship with Iran “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.”

In fact, it seems that the improvement in the Iranian-Georgian relations might harm the interests of traditional Georgian partners. But it should be noted that no one outside Georgia criticized its policies of rapprochement with Iran.

At the same time, Zaza Jgharkava, a contributor with Georgia Today pointed that the agreement is an apparent sign that after a break of 200 years, Iran is back in the Caucasus with a view that stretches wider than the mountainous region. He says many things can be seen through Georgia’s window: Tehran is currently seeking to link the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea – and in the words of Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Georgia is critical to the success of the plan.

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