Military solution of Iranian problem will harm Baku and Yerevan

26/ 04/ 2006

Moscow, (Alexei Makarkin for RIA Novosti) - Escalation of the U.S. conflict
with Iran directly affects the interests of its neighbors.

A military solution may generate serious problems for Iraq, where it took
the political forces several months to agree on the distribution of
government positions. Moreover, a Shiite has again become Prime Minister,
and the Iraqi Shiites have historical ties with their brethren in Iran.
Understandably, political risks in Afghanistan and Pakistan will markedly
grow. The states of the South Caucasus, also Iran's neighbors, will face
problems too.

The media report that the United States is hoping for Azeri cooperation -
its territory could be used as a potential bridgehead for military action
against Iran (this may or may not happen, but nevertheless is on the
agenda). Ilham Aliyev may discuss this issue during his U.S. visit this
week. The agenda may include the use of Azeri air space and airfields, and
the deployment of U.S. troops on Azeri territory.

Obviously, Baku is not very enthusiastic about this prospect. To begin with,
Azerbaijan maintains close relations with Iran. They signed a non-aggression
and cooperation treaty in 2002. Last December their representatives attended
the inauguration of the gas pipeline - under a 25 year-long bilateral
agreement, Iran will supply 80.5 million cubic m of natural gas a year.

During his recent trip to Baku, Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa
Mohammad-Najjar said: "The security of Azerbaijan is the security of Iran.
Our defence capability is your defence capability." He seemed keen to find
out the Azeri position on the eve of Aliyev's visit to the U.S. It is clear,
however, that if Azerbaijan becomes an American ally in the war against
Iran, it will itself become a target for Iranian missiles."

Moreover, Iran is the home for at least 35 million Azeris ( their number
being bigger than the population of Azerbaijan itself), many of them with
relatives in Azerbaijan. It is rumoured that the Americans may try and use
the ethnic factor - contradictions between the Azeri diaspora and the Tehran
regime (as Stalin tried to do in 1946). If so, the U.S. will find it hard to
do without Baku. But let's not forget that Stalin did not succeed, although
the Iranian central government was much weaker than it is now. In addition,
if hostilities break out, refugees may flood Azeri territory and create
serious problems for the Baku authorities. Finally, the Islamic
fundamentalists in Azerbaijan may use military action to enhance their
positions by espousing anti-American rhetoric.

While Baku is thinking about its position in the Iranian crisis, Armenia is
worried that it may have a negative effect on the Karabakh problem, in which
the U.S. is increasingly trying to act as a go-between. So far, the point at
issue is whether Baku will grant Karabakh the right to self-determination,
and sanction a referendum, the results of which are already clear. Only in
this case will Armenia agree to concessions, and return to Baku control over
the areas of the country (outside Karabakh), which are now occupied by its
armed formations. For the time being, Aliyev rejects the idea of a
referendum as a matter of principle - if he agrees to it, he will weaken his
position inside the country and give the opposition an excuse to lash out at
him.

Today, the Americans are emphasizing their role of an "honest broker" at the
Karabakh negotiations, and are trying to exert equal influence on either
side. But the question is if they are so interested in Azeri territory as a
bridgehead for military action against Iran, how can they "compensate" Baku
for the tremendous political risks involved?

At the very least, the U.S. could support the Azeri option of the Karabakh
settlement, which Armenia finds unacceptable. At most, Washington may look
the other way if Baku possible attempts to resolve the issue with military
force. The leader of the Armenian opposition Stepan Demirchyan said with
good reason: "The consequences of a war in Iran will be destructive for the
whole region." He added that a war in Iran would spell disaster both for
Nagorny Karabakh and Armenia.

Although unlikely, even the possibility of such a war causes concern in
Armenia and other CIS nations, which have a vested interest in peaceful
settlement of conflicts on their territory.

Thus potential U.S. military intervention in Iran may not only result in
huge casualties (part of which will be caused by Tehran's retaliation), but
also exacerbate old seats of tension, which have been almost extinguished.
In short, it could trigger a chain reaction with unpredictable consequences.


Alexei Makarkin is Deputy General Director of the Center for Political
Technologies