By Aynur Karimova
Azerbaijan and Iran, the two strategic partners and two neighboring countries with historically close links, enjoy significant prospects for further developing cooperation in various fields.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's official visit to Iran on February 23 will give a definite impetus to rapprochement of Baku and Tehran on a number of political and economic issues.
This confidence comes from signing of a package of bilateral documents, which is expected to be a milestone in terms of development of bilateral relations between the two countries.
President Aliyev and President Rouhani, who held one-on-one and expanded meetings with his Iranian counterpart, attended a ceremony of signing 11 memorandums of understanding.
These documents include an agreement on cooperation in the field of elimination, control and mitigation of consequences of emergency situations, an agreement on mutual administrative assistance in customs issues, an agreement on cooperation in the field of veterinary and livestock health, a framework agreement on the sale of electricity, a framework agreement on coordination of railways of the two countries, an agreement on construction of the border railway bridge over the Astara river, a Memorandum of Understanding between Azerbaijan's State Committee of Family, Women and Children Affairs and Iran’s vice-presidency for women and family affairs, a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in health and medical sciences, an agreement on cooperation between Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare of Iran.
Also, Head of Azerbaijan's state energy company SOCAR Rovnag Abdullayev and Managing Director of National Iranian Oil Company Roknoddin Javadi also signed a memorandum for cooperation. SOCAR also signed a cooperation memorandum with Ghadir Investment Company in the fields of oil, gas and petrochemical products.
In the light of the signed documents, the prospects of bilateral relations is thought to get brighter.
Following the signing ceremony, the two presidents held a joint press conference, where President Aliyev congratulated the Iranian people with the lifting of international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuke program.
He said Azerbaijan has always opposed these sanctions and has always voiced its opinion from all high tribunes.
President Aliyev also expressed satisfaction with the successful development of relations with Iran.
The two countries enjoy solid foundation and the peoples of Azerbaijan and Iran are bound by the history, culture, common past and religion. They have lived together throughout centuries.
“Our relations are being built on this solid basis and today, the Iranian-Azerbaijani relations have grown into the strategic cooperation,” President Aliyev added.
Azerbaijan and Iran always support each other in the international organizations, where they cooperate. Currently, the two countries are focused on expanding economic ties in various fields, including industry, agriculture, energy, alternative energy, and transportation.
In 2014, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $186.6 million.
Iran's export to Azerbaijan during the first half of 2015 decreased to $42.52 million year-on-year. Azerbaijan's export to Iran also decreased by 67.11 percent to $11.16 million during that period. Thus, Iran and Azerbaijan are keen to increase the volume of their bilateral trade to $1 billion.
“Our trade relations have great prospects,” said the Azerbaijani president, adding that today, the sides discussed the developments on the international arena and the bilateral relations.
Azerbaijan has also expressed readiness to join efforts in fighting the international terrorism.
“We agreed to even more strengthen the joint efforts in fighting the international terrorism,” President Aliyev said. “We will continue to support each other on the international arena.”
In his remarks, President Rouhani said Iran and Azerbaijan support political solution to end the crisis in the region.
"Iran and Azerbaijan share common views on the necessity of ending crisis in the region and Syria through political solutions," he noted, adding that both presidents called for expansion of security and intelligence cooperation against extremism.
Azerbaijan and Iran have created favorable conditions for increasing transit cargo transportation through the territories of the two countries. The two countries are located in very favorable strategic positions that create great opportunities for benefiting from the bilateral ties.
Iran, which is situated in the Middle East region, has land borders with the South Asian, Central Asian, and Middle East countries, with access to the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
Azerbaijan, in the cradle of the Caspian Seaç is settled in between the West and East. The country plays a gateway role between not only the east and west, but also the north and south. The Land of Fire is positioned on one of the most important trade and transit routes to Europe.
In this regard, the transportation sector is one of the main areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran.
Azerbaijan lacks a railway link with Iran and implements the vast majority of cargo traffic with this country by road transport. That greatly limits the possibilities of development of trade and economic relations between the two countries and their transit potential.
President Rouhani said the railways of Iran and Azerbaijan will be connected by the end of 2016.
“As for the transit issues and the North-South Corridor, the countries will see an important development by connecting Astara (Iran) – Astara (Azerbaijan) railways by the end of the current year,” he noted.
The North-South railway, with a length of 8.5 kilometers, is expected to serve as a bridge to connect the railways of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia as well.
The North-South corridor, from India to Helsinki, is one of the most important routes for the region. It is a multimodal route for transportation of passengers and cargo from Russia's St. Petersburg to the Mumbai port. It is designed to carry transit cargo from India, Iran and other Persian Gulf countries to the territory of Russia (the Caspian Sea) and onward to Northern and Western Europe.
The North-South corridor with a length of 5,000 kilometers is designed to carry more than 20 million tons per year, which is quite a significant figure to make it significant.
Baku and Tehran are fruitfully cooperating in the energy sector. The two countries are engaged in the implementation of several oil and gas projects. In particular, the Islamic Republic participated in the development of Azerbaijan’s giant Shah Deniz gas field in the Azerbaijani section of the Caspian Sea.
The two countries also carry out gas swap operations: Azerbaijan supplies its fuel to Iran’s northern provinces while Iran ensures the gas demand of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.
Currently, the possibility of transporting Iranian gas through Azerbaijan to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor is high on the agenda of talks between the two governments.
President Rouhani said Azerbaijan and Iran also negotiated joint production of oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea.
“Regarding energy [sector], we held constructive talks on the issues of oil and gas, power exchange, as well as joint production of oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea,” he noted.
Rouhani, however, didn’t specify which oil and gas fields were discussed during the talks with President Ilham Aliyev.
Rouhani further said talks were held with the Azerbaijani president for further cooperation regarding insurance, banks and joint investment, particularly in the Araz, Anzali and Maku free trade zones.
He added that economic and political issues, as well as cultural and tourism topics, including shipping and aviation, were also discussed during the talks.
Tehran and Baku have recently intensified bilateral relations with an expectation to further deepen the all-out cooperation between the two close neighbors.
President Aliyev's visit to Tehran will create a solid foundation to develop and achieve a qualitatively new level of relations between the friendly Iran and Azerbaijan.
Aynur Karimova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Aynur_Karimova
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