Iran, Azerbaijan And Georgia Agree on Establishment of Transit Route

Orkhan Jalilov Feature 10 December 2021
Iran, Azerbaijan And Georgia Agree on Establishment of Transit Route

An Iranian transportation official has said that the transit route would run through Azerbaijan and Georgia and connect the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea.

"This project has actually been discussed for the last eight years, however, despite the involvement of many countries in such an agreement, it hasn't been executed yet due to differences in opinions of the parties," Javad Hedayati, the director-general of the International Transit and Transportation Office of Iran's Road Maintenance and Transportation Organisation told Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported on December 6.

Iran proposed an initiative to the two Caucasus countries to better connect the region by establishing a new transit corridor, following the two meetings regarding transportation with Azerbaijani and Georgian officials. An agreement was reached with Azerbaijani and Georgian transportation officials to do a test run on this transit route by March 2022. The test run would see goods in Iran's southern ports travel to Azerbaijan via the Astara border and then transferred to Bulgaria and other European countries through Georgia's Black Sea ports.

Hedayati said that Iran and Georgia have access to free waters via the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, respectively, adding that Georgia and Azerbaijan have also invested a lot in developing their transportation infrastructure and that's why Iran is trying to increase connectivity with these two countries.

The official said that the three countries will assess the costs and viability of the transit route, adding that it might become a good alternative to existing routes via Russia and Turkey and that other countries might be interested in it as well.

Back in 2016, Iran put forward a regional initiative to expand the Persian Gulf–Black Sea International Transport and Transit Corridor, which, in addition to Iran, involves Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria and Greece. This multi modal corridor begins from the Gulf and southern Iran, heads northward across the country, and then proceeds to Azerbaijan, from where it reaches the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi in the Black Sea. 

The Persian Gulf–Black Sea International Transport and Transit Corridor, the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt are three strategic transit initiatives whose sea, land and rail routes pass through Iran. Effectively combining the capacity of all three would allow Iran to connect the Oman Sea and the Gulf to the south, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, Central Asia to the northeast, and the Caucasus to the northwest.

If Armenia agrees with Article 9 of the November 9, 2020, ceasefire agreement between Yerevan and Baku, which deals with the revival of several Soviet-era regional railways, Iran will be able to link its own rail network to Armenia and Georgia.

On the other hand, Tehran fears that the proposed Zangazur corridor, a transit route linking Azerbaijan's mainland with its exclave Nakhchivan and Turkey via southern Armenian territories, will weaken Iran's position in the region. The establishment of the corridor was agreed upon as part of the Russian-brokered deal that ended the war.

In a conversation with local residents in the northern Azerbaijani town of Quba on December 6, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called on Armenia to give a precise date for the opening of the Zangazur corridor.

"I am saying - let them give us a date when the Zangazur corridor will be opened, there will be no problem then. I think both the Armenian leadership and the Armenian public, the population should understand this. We have achieved our goal, we are achieving our goals and will do so in the future. It would be better for this issue to be resolved in a constructive manner, through negotiations, mutual understanding. Because the Second Karabakh War showed to the whole world the will, strength and unity of our people," Aliyev said.

"They [Armenians] should accept our conditions and put an end to any insincere attitude regarding roads and communications. Only in this case, all peoples in the South Caucasus will leave in peace and prosperity," the president added.

Meanwhile, the Armenian Foreign Ministry denounced recent remarks by the Azerbaijani president in a statement on 7 December, saying that Aliyev's statements "threaten territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia". 

The statement called on the Azerbaijani Republic “to refrain from hindering the process of unblocking regional transport and economic communications," and added that Armenia remains committed to its obligations under the Russia-brokered 2020 armistice agreement.

The Azerbaijani president's statement came ten days after a meeting of the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in Sochi on November 26. A trilateral declaration was signed on the results of the Sochi meeting, which stressed the need for a speedy launch of "specific projects" in order to open up the region's economic potential. However, a meeting of the Azerbaijani-Armenian-Russian trilateral commission held on December 1, failed to reach any agreement.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on December 15.