Tuesday, December 12, 2006

U.S.-Iranian Cooperation in North Caucasus

In Eurasia Daily Monitor, analyst Andrei Smirnov discusses a little-publicized series of visits by Russia-based senior Iranian and U.S. diplomats to localities in the North Caucasus region which took place earlier this month.

U.S. Ambassador William Burns was in the North Caucasus from December 4-5, visiting Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, as well as Vladikavkaz and Beslan in North Ossetia. On December 7 Iran’s Ambassador Gholam-Reza Ansari visited Dagestan.

Smirnov points out that

The simultaneous appearance of the Iranian and U.S. diplomats in the North Caucasus was hardly a coincidence; the program and purposes of both visits looked almost identical. Burns and Ansari both discussed economic issues with local leaders.

The visits, which concentrated on the particular cultural, political, civil-society and economic interests which Washington and Teheran have in the region, appear to have been co-ordinated by Moscow:

The North Caucasus remains the Kremlin’s most painful issue, and foreign diplomats in Russia are usually very cautious when dealing with this topic. The Russian side likely initiated these visits, but analysts are divided on why. Although there have not been any major rebel raids in the Caucasus in 2006, the Kremlin continues to face severe economic and security problems in its effort to control the region.

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On paper, a troika consisting of Russia, the United States, and Iran could function in the North Caucasus. At the moment all sides seem keen to cooperate in the region. “I am convinced that we have much to gain by working together,” Burns told residents of Kabardino-Balkaria. At the same time Ansari told the Dagestani president, “If in comparison with other parts of Russia, Dagestan and Iran are united not only by the common borders, but also by a common culture, this creates a good basis for good-neighborly cooperation (RIA-Dagestan, December 7).

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