Regional neighborhood – basic luck of the draw

Photo: Regional neighborhood – basic luck of the draw / Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 20

By Saeed Isayev - Trend:

While moving from one apartment to another because of noisy neighbors is complicated yet manageable, this is obviously not the case with neighboring countries. Especially, if we are talking about a sensitive region.

Azerbaijan knows firsthand what it's like to have bad neighbors, in face of Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the two countries has remained unresolved for more than 20 years. Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions remain under the occupation of Armenian forces.

Another neighbor that Azerbaijan should watch closely is Iran.

Certain circles in both countries sometimes plot various incidents that leak to the press, and cause indignation from both Iran and Azerbaijan, however in general these neighbors try to maintain fairly stable relations. At least on the surface.

Iran however has its share of problems, the most important of which is the country's nuclear program. As a result of it, numerous sanctions from the West were imposed on the Islamic Republic.

The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of developing a nuclear weapon - something that Iran denies. The Islamic Republic has on numerous occasions stated that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons, using nuclear energy for medical research instead.
In November 2013, Iran was able to reach an agreement with Western states regarding the nuclear program.

While the nuclear issue is far from being solved, the agreement itself was a relief for a lot of countries, including Azerbaijan.

U.S. president Barack Obama believes the deal with Iran can be done, which explains the December 19 statement from the White House - that Obama will veto the new Iran sanctions bill, if it is approved by the Congress. Iran in turn said it will stop all nuclear negotiations if there are new sanctions imposed.

The threat of military attack on Iran hasn't completely vanished, as Iranian officials have stated on numerous occasions that if Israel decides to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, such action will be met with armed response.

Such a scenario would be devastating for the whole region and to Azerbaijan in particular. Azerbaijan borders with Iran and there are over 20 million ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran. Doesn't take long to figure out where some of them will flow, if there is another war.

Azerbaijan has always stated that its territory will not be used as ground for launching attacks on Iran - a reassuring statement that the South Caucasus country plans to stick to. Azerbaijan has other reasons for being interested in having good relations with Iran. The two countries take border security very seriously, as their joint border spreads to 611 kilometers.

This however won't help, if the negotiations with Iran fail, and there will be some sort of military action against the Islamic Republic. One can say that Azerbaijan wasn't so lucky with some of its neighbors, but that's something you cannot pick.

As of now, Azerbaijan has the whole package of neighbors - those who are like brothers, those who are unbearable, and those who need to be closely watched. Iran falls to the last category.

The Islamic Republic on its part sees the situation slightly differently. The country's officials said that Iran likes to solve problems with its neighbors without the interference of foreign forces, which explains why the regime was against the idea of representatives of some Arab states joining the P5+1 group for discussions on Iran's nuclear program.

In any case, currently the situation for Iran looks a lot better than it did about a year ago, and right now, both Iran and the Western states have a chance to come to some sort of solution to the nuclear issue.

As for Azerbaijan, the country continues its course with balanced foreign policy, which is appreciated and tolerated by both neighboring countries and other states as well.

The Nagorno-Karabakh problem did not prevent Azerbaijan from rapidly developing into a regional leader, and yet there is something that Azerbaijan doesn't want - to test its foreign policy to the limit, if neighboring Iran gets involved into some sort of military conflict.

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