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Iran should rethink Central Asia policy
Tue, 26 Apr 2011 18:13:24 GMT
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Central Asia
If world developments do not lead to changes in the diplomatic apparatus of a country, it will suffer from backwardness when it comes to analyzing events, and, hence, will be unable to secure its national interests.

About 20 years on since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and with the transition period to the new political systems in Central Asia and the Caucasus coming to an end, the need is felt more than ever to review what has been done so far, introduce changes and take constructive initiatives to further enhance regional cooperation. Nevertheless, the key question remains: What foreign policy areas exactly should these new changes and moves cover?

The current analysis seeks to offer a short answer to this important question.

Devising an inclusive Iranian strategy in Central Asia and the Caucasus

To forge closer cooperation with countries in Central Asia, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and in the Caucasus, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Iran needs to become more active in four areas.

First of all, Iran needs to adopt a well-defined strategy in the two geographical domains. The strategy has to specify Iran's priorities in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Second, the goals and ways to achieve those goals in Central Asia and the Caucasus should be determined. In other words, the destination and means to attain the pre-determined objectives need to be clarified. Ambassadors appointed to the countries in those two regions should not act based on personal convictions.

The effect reveals the cause. Likewise, the effect which results from changing ambassadors shows Iran's performance. In other words, there is no general strategy to be implemented by any appointed ambassador. Even if there is one, we do not know about it. So, it should be clarified what diplomatic measures Iran is to adopt in the two strategic regions.

Third, pragmatic and innovative approaches should be presented to further promote regional cooperation. Offering general policies is a nonstarter. We should see what could be done to help solve problems to give regional cooperation fresh impetus. Of course, it is natural that Iran's ambitions will not fully materialize; only 60 to 70 percent of them might be fulfilled. That is why Iran should set a well-defined framework for its plans and seek to present viable initiatives.

Fourth, Iran had better focus its attention on expanding cultural cooperation with those countries. As an analyst who has focused on the Soviet Union issues over the past thirty years, and on Central Asia and the Caucasus since the Soviet Union collapsed 18 years ago, I believe it will give Iran an edge if it makes its presence felt in the cultural arena.

In other words, Iran's closer cooperation with the countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus on cultural fronts will contribute to its economic and political cooperation as well. The reason is culture sets the stage for economic activities and political cooperation. In fact, the two are complementary.

However, Iran should mainly focus its attention on cultural activities as Iran enjoys more advantages in the cultural sphere than other countries.

Common areas of cooperation among regional countries

1. It has been years since Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan agreed on launching a joint media outlet to broadcast news to Persian-speaking people across the world. Five years on since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Afghan and Tajik counterparts, Hamid Karzai and Emomali Rakhman, agreed in Tajikistan to launch a joint television network. Nevertheless, the project has been kept on ice ever since.

A long time has passed, and the project still hasnot got off the ground. The reason is, first, it is not clear who is to kick start the plan, and second, broadcast policies have not been set, not to mention the differences of opinion on what the audience prefers to watch.

We can attain a common identity and common culture only when our media outlet airs programs based on what the audience desires, so that it can attract large numbers of viewers in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. If we are to adopt the same local policies vis-à-vis a regional media outlet, it is pretty obvious that we will get to nowhere. We should let pros handle this.

2. Holding seminars on a whole range of topics such as the Persian language and Nowruz commemoration is very important. Holding such gatherings is useful, but the problem is that they do not produce tangible results. Just getting together, delivering speeches and presenting articles will solve no problem. This is a prelude to viable solutions. Such conferences are a sine qua non, but not per se adequate.

What is important is that such moves continue and lead to fruitful and constructive cooperation. It could, for instance, result in the simultaneous publication of a joint newspaper or magazine in the capitals of the countries. Expert views presented in such events should be followed up by an executive committee, not that suggestions are made and forgotten immediately. Numerous gatherings have been held so far at a very high cost, but failed to promote regional cooperation in practice. For Iran, the holding of conferences should not be an end itself.

3. Plans can be drawn up to boost press cooperation, so that journalists from regional countries can travel to Iran periodically to attend workshops, and Iranians, too, will pay visits to those countries. Such courses will be useful as long as they are held on a regular basis.

Articles written by regional journalists can be published in Iranian publications, and, the other way round: Iranian articles can be published across the region. This could trigger an all-out cooperation among media outlets and scientific journals. But no one is willing to get this happen.

4. Iranian university circles can launch joint ventures. Why Iranian universities should not be working with central Asian universities on a joint project, namely renowned literary figures. Late prominent figures such as Avecina who are much revered by all three nations can bring us closer together. Getting prejudiced on the nationality of these great men won't solve any problem; rather, we should think how this invaluable legacy can be used to further boost cooperation among regional countries.

5. The Central Asian countries as well as two nations in the Caucasus have no access to the high seas, so they can use Iranian routes, and clinch joint oil and gas as well as road and rail transportation deals in tandem with cultural agreements. But for regional nations to be encouraged into closer cooperation with Iran, the groundwork should be set first. The next stage is that they should see such cooperation serves their interests. In fact, cultural cooperation serves as an elixir.

6. And the last, but not the least, Iran's diplomatic missions in those countries should be politically rearranged, so that more efficient and experienced people can be employed.

NN/AKM
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