Our Analytics 19 december — 11:54

Ali Larijani's 'Azerbaijani Project' (Hot on the heels)

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BU JAVAD SHABIRI, INTERNATIONAL POLITICS SECTION

Last Sunday, at a meeting with the Chairman of the Supreme Assembly of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, Vasif Talibov the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani said that both countries 'would remain friends and partners forever.'

This statement could be attributed to the requirements of the diplomatic protocol, political courtesy and even -- there will be people to say so -- to the 'Iranian duplicity.' If not for one circumstance. For an attentive observer, it becomes more and more obvious that the longer Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in office, the bigger become contradictions in the country's leadership about relations with Azerbaijan.

More precisely, it is so: attempts of the Iranian elites to manoeuvre -- with varying degrees of success -- between Yerevan and Baku are gradually disappearing. A lot of circumstances -- from the economy to the geostrategy -- put Tehran before a choice: it is necessary to determine, who will become the main partner of the Islamic Republic in the South Caucasus and, in part, in the Caspian. With all that it implies.

Vasif Talibov and Ali Larijani in Tehran

For a long, very long time in Iran they tried to avoid this choice, trying, literally, 'to sit on two chairs.' To no small degree this was contributed to by the secret communications of the local 'Armenian lobby' with the West, which to a considerable extent helped to bypass the regime of crippling sanctions. And frank irritation of some political circles by the independent foreign policy of Baku. And Tehran's desire to integrate into the field of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), thereby insuring itself in the event of another attempt to drive it into international isolation.

Actually, these arguments have not disappeared anywhere, but their significance, especially in the performance of Hasan Rouhani, Javad Zarif and representatives of Iranian trade capital, has significantly depreciated. Several other political and economic factors have become relevant.

Armenian side constantly stressed its importance for Iran as a bridge in the relations between it, the EAEU, and the EU. The culmination of this approach can be considered a widely advertised opening last week of the 'Meghri' free economic zone, which has no less than 'fateful' significance, and in general -- according to some statements -- will be the road that connects the Persian Gulf with the Mediterranean Sea.

But if we take a closer look at this event, it will very quickly turn out that the ultimate goal of Meghri is the labelling on a legal basis of foreign, including Iranian, goods with the 'Armenian registration.' For the subsequent preferential export to the EAEU and the EU.

What is so unique about this? Only, perhaps, that Belarus, Kazakhstan and the same Kyrgyzstan do this without special advertising, and Yerevan does so demonstratively, not hiding anything. But the re-gluing of labels on foreign goods somehow, you see, doesn't make a grade as an 'economic breakthrough.' A small group of Iranian businessmen got an opportunity to save on the import duties for modest monetary deductions to the Armenian authorities, nothing more.

But in far more serious issues -- from energy transit to embedding into the Chinese 'Belt and Road' initiative, to which the Rouhani team is opposed in every possible way in collusion with India --Tehran needs a full-fledged, long-lasting and far from decorative partnership with Baku. The speediest realisation of which the heavyweights of Iranian politics decided to join, with an increasing irritation watching the inconsistency of the Rouhani-Zarif duet in the South Caucasus.

Larijani is not just the speaker of the Iranian Majlis. He is the head of a powerful political clan that opposes the incumbent president. Larijani enjoys the strong support of Iranian industrialists and does not hide his ambitions regarding the chair of the head of the executive power of the Islamic Republic, which Rouhani now occupies.

With the secret sanction of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, members of this clan in various Iranian authorities start implementing their own 'Azerbaijani Project,' an alternative one to the presidential team's course. And, among other things, it is called to sabotage rapprochement with Yerevan. They begin slowly, without harsh steps, without any publicity. But those who know the Larijani clan well have already made sure that its members know how to succeed. And not in short-term, but precisely on long distances.

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