July 07, 2010
Tajikistan-Iran Foreign Relations
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
Following the June 2009 Iranian presidential elections, Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, congratulated President Ahmadinejad on his re-election, saying “your landslide victory in free and transparent elections is evidence that Iranian people supports your policy.” During a July 2009 press conference, Tajik First Deputy Foreign Minister Abdullo Yuldashev reaffirmed Tajikistan’s approval of Ahamadinejad’s re-election, stating that Tajikistan had welcomed the electoral outcome and will “try to develop cooperation based on the [previous diplomatic and trade] agreements inked between the two countries."
Tajikistan’s first deputy secretary-general of the People's Democratic Party, Ali Dolatzadeh, has stated that the international community must respect Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In August 2008, Dolatzadeh said that "the claims that Iran is after developing atomic weapons should be proved at the first hand" before the international community can take measures against Iran. The first deputy foreign minister of Tajikistan, Saymumin Yatimov, has stated that Tajikistan supports the peaceful resolution of the issue and that Tajikistan upholds the "international agreements, contracts and conventions [that] stipulate Iran's right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes."
While attending a meeting of the International Conference on ‘Disarmament in the Central Asia and the Caspian Sea Littoral States,’ Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokhon Zarifi highlighted his country’s skepticism over the use of sanctions against Iran, adding that he “do[es] not think that the Security Council resolutions would be a useful means to resolve global issues but instead it will make them more complicated."
The two countries have cooperated in a number of development and industrial projects and enjoy a reasonably strong level of economic cooperation. Bilateral trade between the two has risen from $40 million in 2000 to $140 million in 2007, making Iran one of Tajikistan’s top five trade partners. According to Tajik Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade Saidrahmon Nazriyev, however, trade suffered during the world-wide financial crisis, contracting by 41% in 2009. In November 2009, the State Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Tajikistan announced that Iran and Tajikistan have $102.3 million worth of trade and service exchanges over the first ten months of the year. Nevertheless, bilateral totals appeared to rebound in 2010, with the deputy minister claiming that “trade between our two countries increased by almost 90 per cent in the first four months of this year compared to the same period of last year."
In 2006, Iran’s Sabir Company contributed $39 million worth of goods and services to help Tajikistan construct the Anzab tunnel, through which runs a road that connects Dushanbe and Khujand, Tajikistan’s first and second largest cities, respectively. Iran has also helped Tajikistan with the construction of the Sangtudeh-2 power plant project, contributing $180 million for the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2011. Noting that Tajikistan lacks the hydrocarbon resources of its neighbors, Second Secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Tajikistan Hasan Karroubi stressed the importance of Tajikistan’s hydroelectric potential. Karroubi added that "Iran is the world's one of the most experienced countries in building hydroelectric power facilities, and our companies are ready to help Tajikistan to develop its hydroelectric resources.”
The two countries have also cooperated in the field of transportation, with Iran and Tajikistan agreeing in February 2009 on the construction of a rail line that would link the two via Afghanistan. In May 2010, further progress on the project was achieved when Tajikistan and Iran signed a technical agreement on the sidelines of the 37th meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Dushanbe. According to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, "Iranian and Tajik official and experts delegations will soon begin negotiations on preparing a technical and economic plan for the project."
In March 2009, Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan discussed the establishment of joint bank that they claim will lessen the effects of global economic instability in the region. In May 2010, during the Organization of Islamic Conference ministerial meeting, Mottaki and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon met to discuss the expansion of economic ties, particularly in the sectors of trade, transportation, water, energy, and infrastructure, with Rahmon expressing his country’s gratitude for Iran’s participation in the Sangtudeh-2 project.
On May 26, 2010, a delegation of Iranian investors met with Tajik Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade Saidrahmon Nazriyev in Dushanbe. The minister stressed that economic ties remained underutilized and called on Iranian investors to help invigorate Tajikistan’s energy, light industry, and agriculture sectors.
Tajikistan and Iran have agreed to boost cultural and media relations between the two countries. The Tajik minister of culture at the time, Rajabmad Amirov, in a visit to Iran in 2005, said that his country shares cultural and historical roots with Iran which "create[s] favorable grounds for developing bilateral relations." In March, 2009, Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan held the third meeting of Farsi-speaking nations, in which they agreed on a 24-point joint declaration. The declaration focused on strengthening development, energy and cultural ties. In order to expand these bonds, Tajikistan and Iran stated in June 2009 that they are working to create a joint Academy of Sciences, Arts and Literature.
In April 2009, the Iranian state-run Fars News Agency opened an office in Dushanbe. The move was welcomed by the Tajik cultural minister, Mirzoshohrukh Asrori, and was followed by a statement by the agency’s managing director, Hamid Reza Moghaddam, encouraging greater media cooperation to “foil the soft threats posed by the western media against” Iran and Tajikistan.
The two countries have worked to establish ties in the realm of defense and regional security. During their March 2009 meeting in Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan affirmed their commitment to working together to restore peace and security to that country. In June, Ali Asqar Sherdoust, Iran’s ambassador to Tajikistan, outlined the regional importance of Tajik-Iranian relations, saying that “Iran, as the most important power in the Middle-East, and Tajikistan, as the main axis of the Central Asia could have a significant stake in expansion of relations between South, West and Central Asia." According to Akbar Hasanov, a colonel in the Tajik armed forces, "there is a need for military and technical cooperation between Tajikistan and Iran.” Though Iran and Tajikistan have held discussions on increasing their military cooperation military agreements with Russia currently bind Tajikistan, preventing Tajikistan from pursuing greater cooperation with Iran. The two countries leaders’ met shortly after the Iranian presidential election at the June 2009 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Russia, an intergovernmental trade and security organization in which Iran is an observer and Tajikistan is a full member.
In an effort to improve defense ties, representatives of the two countries met to sign a memorandum of understanding on the subject in May 2010. Speaking during the meeting, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi stressed that "Iran follows long-term and strategic relations with Tajikistan…[and] believe[s] that powerful neighbors can pave the way for their progress and development if [they] stand by each other." Vahidi also met with Tajik Defense Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi, Tajik Parliament Speaker Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloyev, and General Sherali Khayrulloyev, who represented Tajikistan at the signing. In a follow-up meeting with Vahidi, President Rahmon noted that his country seeks bilateral cooperation in both military and non-military sectors. For his part, Vahidi conveyed “warm greetings” from the Iranian president and noted Tehran’s willingness to increase collaboration, particularly in personnel training and weapons production.
Aside from security issues, Iran and Tajikistan have had several high profile diplomatic meetings in recent years. In December 2009, members of the Tajikistan parliament expressed eagerness to expand relations with Iran “in all arenas.” Member of the Iran-Tajikistan Parliamentary Group Osman Jan Qaffarov pointed to common interests between the two nations saying, “cooperation between Tajikistan’s parliament and the parliament of the brotherly and friendly country of Iran will develop within the framework of the friendship group more than before.”
In January 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for further expansion of cooperation between Iran and Tajikistan. “Under the current global circumstances, countries like Iran and Tajikistan should side with each other more than before," the president said at a meeting with Tajikistan's Supreme Assembly Speaker Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev in Dushanbe, adding that the world is changing and oppressors are weakening. Pointing to Iran-Tajikistan growing ties, Ahmadinejad noted that abundant steps and projects are underway to further strengthen the two countries' ties. During the president’s visit, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on the development and deepening of relations and cooperation in the fields of geology and exploration of minerals.
Iran and Tajikistan have worked to considerably deepen academic and cultural ties, signing several agreements to increase cooperation in these fields. In February 2010, the Iran Studies Center of Tajikistan University was inaugurated in a special ceremony attended by Iranian Ambassador to Tajikistan Ali Asqar She'rdoust. During the inauguration, She’rdoust said that the center will significantly add to the students’ understanding of Iranian culture, history, language, and recent achievements. Iran's embassy has already opened similar studies centers in several Tajik universities including the Agricultural University, Melli University, Trade University, Amouzgari University, Foreign Language University, and Slaviani University. During a February 2010 meeting with deputies and managers of Tajikistan's youth, tourism and physical education organization, the deputy head of Iran's National Youth Organization, Faramarz Dezfouli, stressed that both countries’ presidents are committed to the further development of bilateral ties, particularly in cultural fields. The same month, Iran's Islamic Azad University agreed to establish research centers in the universities of Tajikistan. In return, the institution will host a course on Tajik studies, according to the agreement sign by Chancellor of the Islamic Azad University of Iran Abdullah Jasbi and Tajik Education Minister Abdul Jabbar Rahmanov.
On May 7, 2010, Iran and Tajikistan signed an agreement allowing for enhanced consular cooperation. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular, Parliamentary and Expatriates' Affairs Hassan Qashqavi and Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister Abdollah Yoldashov agreed to establish additional Tajik consulates in Iran, an expanded visa regime for Iranian investors in Tajikistan, and the establishment of a scholarship program for Tajik students. Despite positive developments on this front, Tajikistan rejected an Iranian proposal to establish a visa-free regime.
In June 2010, the Iranian state railroad threatened to halt all Turkmen rail freight transiting the Islamic Republic en route to Uzbekistan, unless Tashkent allows rail cars bound for Tajikistan to pass through its territory without delay. For several months prior to the ultimatum—which could affect as many as 150 freight cars per day—Uzbekistan had been delaying the passage of the Iranian cargo due to its opposition to Tajikistan’s construction (with extensive Iranian assistance) of the Sangtuda-2 dam.