Iran’s rapprochement with Azerbaijan opens dangerous dynamics

A photo of the leaders of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan holding hands at a summit in Tehran before formal talks
Tehran, Nov., 2017 (L to R): Russian President Vladimir Putin, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev (source: dpa)
  • Conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia can spill over into the South Caucasus
  • Iran is trying to manipulate Azerbaijan’s Shia population through religious agitation, but also offers broad cooperation to Baku
  • Joint projects have a stabilizing impact, but the “frozen” conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh remains the region’s worst ticking bomb

The relentless rise of Iran is presently making itself felt in the South Caucasus, a region ridden by border conflicts and great power rivalry. The inroad is Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation of 10 million on Iran’s northern border. Although relations between Baku and Tehran have long been tense, recent developments have been marked by surprising elements of rapprochement.

Two coinciding factors have combined to produce this outcome. One was the election, in 2013, of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran. His pragmatism has translated into a broad agenda of cooperation that ranges from infrastructure projects to energy development and security promotion.

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