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IRAN, GEORGIA: Washington wary of warming ties between Tehran and U.S. ally

Iran-georgia

In a turn of events that has both Georgian and American diplomats walking on eggshells, Georgia and Iran agreed this week to eliminate visa restrictions and resume direct flights between Tbilisi and Tehran.

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.

Earlier this week, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze saluted Iran as one of the most powerful countries in the region, while stressing -- repeatedly -- that Tbilisi’s relationship with its Persian neighbor is solely about  trade and tourism.

“We largely ... depend on the United States for political support. Therefore, it is absolutely groundless to suggest that we are somehow questioning this strategic cooperation,” she said at a news conference. “We have no under-the-table relations with anyone, especially Iran.”

After ignoring the Caucasus for decades in favor of fellow Muslims in the Persian Gulf and South Asia, Iran has been largely excluded from the geopolitical chess game in the South Caucasus, where Turkey and Russia dominate.

Now, beset by sanctions and with its internal politics in turmoil, Iran is cultivating new relationships with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, hoping to regain its once-potent role as a regional power, explore new trade partners and -- at the very least -- keep the South Caucasus from becoming a base for the U.S. military.

Sometimes building new friendships means opening the pocketbook. This past year, Tehran has offered to help Tbilisi build a new hydroelectric plant, made good on a plan to reopen a long-abandoned Iranian consulate in western Georgia, and sent 15,000 Iranian tourists on chartered planes to Georgia's struggling Black Sea resorts.

Iran also said it wants to buy nearly 10 times as much gas from Azerbaijan as it did last year, and proposed building a $1.2-billion railroad linking Armenia to the Persian Gulf.

“We're in a kind of Bermuda triangle here,” said Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi. “Georgia needs U.S. support, but it needs friendly relations with its neighbors, too. [The U.S.] understands we are a small nation, stuck in the middle. We can’t burn bridges. We must have relations with both.”

But perhaps that’s more easily said than done. In 2008, Iranian-Georgian relations got put on ice -- really cold ice -- for almost a year after Georgia agreed to extradite an Iranian citizen to the U.S. on charges of smuggling, money laundering, and conspiracy.

“It was very bad,” said a Georgian diplomat close to the case, who did not want his name used due to the sensitivity of the issue. “There was basically no real communication for a year.”

As for the U.S., the Embassy in Tbilisi so far has stayed silent about Georgia’s cozy new relationship with Iran, perhaps because trade between the two nations accounts for less than 1% of Georgian imports.

Last month, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, traveled to both Azerbaijan and Turkey --  with much more robust dockets of trade with Iran -- to request that both nations scale back their trade with Tehran.

-- Haley Sweetland Edwards in Tblisi, Georgia

Photo: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki with his Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze in Tblisi earlier this week. Credit: Islamic Republic News Agency

Comments () | Archives (9)

Iran has threatened to crumble Azerbaijan to the ground in much the same way Russia and the United States threatened to do to each other for so long, the only difference being Iran's threats were conventional and not nuclear. This was part of a strategy designed to harm US interests in the region.

BE CAREFULL IRAN, US MAY SMUGGLE TERRORIST THROUGH GEORGIA TO IRAN.

Wait!

Does it mean that there is a world dictator that decides what other countries can or cannot do?

"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"

Internal unrest?!!! in Iran?!!! When and where?

"After ignoring the Caucasus for decades in favor of fellow Muslims in the Persian Gulf and South Asia, Iran has been largely excluded from the geopolitical chess game in the South Caucasus, where Turkey and Russia dominate."

Iran has been engaged with all Caucasus countries, beyond it also all southern former soviet republics since their independence. The reason Azerbaijan didn't fail after the war with Armenia is Iran and its good relationship with Armenia that prevented it. The reason famine didn't destroy Turkmenistan was Iran's shipping of tons of free food for a year to Turkmenistan after their independence, which Turkmen still appreciate. The reason there is such a warm relationship between Iran and Armenia is because of Iran's open border policy with them, their only open route to outside world without any restriction. Same holds true with Tajikistan, the negotiation between rebels and the government was achieved by Iran.

You guys feeding a pile of nonsense to people, no wonder why US is in such a desperate situation.
How about some truth? Georgia is close on Iran's border and they don't want to see war and insecurity there, which could get out of hand. Israel got involved in Georgia and made them start a war, maybe Iran wants to kick the trouble makers out of the area. Iran also announced that they want to be a vehicle for negotiating a resolution between Georgia and the two break-away republics. They also have sketched it somewhat, as independent areas under Georgia. They think with their relationship and also Turkish help they could achieve it. How about a little truth now and then?

"Georgians are 4,5 and even 6 face people."? that's a bit ironic coming from an Armenian. As I recall Armenians lobby US against Turkey, against Georgia, against Azerbaijan, yet cosies up to Iran more than Georgians do.

It's really not necessary making it personal. Georgians need to survive, and if it means establishing contacts with regional power so be it.

Georgia were supplied with natural gas from Iran few times before, when Russia and Azerbaijan didn't or couldn't meet her demands for energy and they remember who helped them in time of need unlike those friends who abandoned her, recent war with Russia was one example!
This Israeli American treasury agent and his armature bosses don't seems to grasp the historical background of relation between Caucasus states and Iran, they have been part of the one nation (it's Greek to me; Persia) much longer by far than adding Russia and Turkey and US entire history all together!

"Last month, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, traveled to both Azerbaijan and Turkey -- with much more robust dockets of trade with Iran -- to request that both nations scale back their trade with Tehran."

- That is INSANE! You want Russia joining WTO and ban EVERYTHING that has Iran on it... I dislike Iranian government, but seriously... /:

"Washington wary of warming ties between Tehran and U.S. ally"

- REALLY? Oh come on. So, more Iranian tourists will visit the black sea resorts during the summer. AND THIS SOMEHOW creates a problem?? On the contrary, I think they will see a big difference between freedom and dictatorship. By the way, Iran is not MUCH MUCH more repressed than say Russia, BUT nobody refrains from shaking hands with Putin... Why? Ahmadenijad may be a bad man, BUT he has not invaded anyone, has not committed MASS murders... at least for now. PUTIN HAS! And again, if EU/US wants Georgia to not have any relationships with Iran... they should at least not throw away Georgia with a panic every time the Russian bear opens it's mouth. NATO, I'm looking at you.

/ I fully support Georgian government on this and there is no reason to be talking trash, IT'S NOT LIKE GEORGIA IS BUILDING A NUKE PLANT IN BUSHER, PUTIN IS!

Georgians are 4,5 and even 6 face people.


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