Central Asia as Iran’s saviour

Trend commentator Arzu Naghiyev

Tehran's high echelon is trying to find new opportunities to enter the Asian markets as U.S. and European economic sanctions strengthen against Iran. The bans on the import of Iranian oil to such countries as China and India is gradually having more influence on the economy as a result of the Western sanctions in connection with Iran's nuclear programme.

Despite the Iranian projects in Central Asia and with trade relations being very small compared to the profit obtained from oil exported to the world leading countries, this propaganda is Tehran's attempt to save its economy, comprising of oil by 76 per cent at the expense of the region, where Washington has limited influence.

Major representatives from the local automotive industry İran Khodro announced in August this year that the company plans to increase the export of its products to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. While holding a leading position in Tajikistan, the Iranian construction company act as the main contractor in the projects worth $39 million to build a tunnel that will connect the capital Dushanbe and northern Tajikistan and power plants.

Iran's main idea, a railway through Central Asia caused disputes between Iran and neighbouring Turkmenistan in 15 years after opening the first section.

Turkmenistan unexpectedly terminated the contract to the amount of $700 million in September, signed with the Iranian company Pars Energy to continue the construction of the railway along the Caspian Sea, crossing Kazakhstan. The cause remains unknown. Apparently, Turkmenistan has been forced to reconsider its trade ties with Iran because of the expansion of sanctions.

Moreover, bypassing Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are interested in joining the railway project in the Azerbaijani coasts of the Caspian Sea which will extend to Kars in Turkey. This will mean a Central Asian countries' route to the sea.

Iran has no other choice but to trade with Central Asian countries due to Western sanctions. Of course, the sale of oil will not solve this problem, as the Central Asian countries do not need Iranian oil. Having a common language of communication, Tajikistan can be a major partner and Iran's foothold in Central Asia, through which it can gain access to the Chinese and Russian markets.

However one of the main impediments to Iran is the difference between the directions and trends of the Islamic religion.

Central Asia is mainly inhabited by Sunnis and the ruling circles of these countries fear that the Shiite minority will cause conflict. Therefore, Iran's future activity is impossible in Afghanistan's and Central Asia's vast territories due to the problems between Sunnis and Shiites. Tehran announced Iran as a Shiite country.

However, one of the factors greatly disturbing Iran is to strengthen relations between Washington and Central Asia after withdrawing NATO troops from Afghanistan, scheduled for late 2014.

It is known that the growing attention being paid to the region increases the interest in Central Asian countries. That's why they prefer taking more independent decisions, rather than consider the possibility of getting the access to the sea only through Iran and Russia.

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