Undeniable peace partner

November 1, 2020 - 19:53

TEHRAN – Iran has offered a peace initiative to put an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh war while drawing red lines for regional players that are involved in the war, a policy that could further enhance the prospect for peace and security in the south Caucasus region.

Last week, Iran stepped up the plate to help bring peace to the war-torn region of Nagorno-Karabakh by tasking a senior diplomat with holding lengthy discussions with officials in Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey. The diplomat, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, set off a tour of these countries on Tuesday, one month after the war broke out in the volatile region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but controlled by local ethnic Armenians.

Before beginning his tour, Araghchi first paid a visit to Iran-Azerbaijan border areas to get a firsthand understanding of what is going on there. He held meetings with the security and political officials in Tabriz and Ardabil. Araghchi, who is the deputy foreign minister for political affairs, left Tabriz for Baku to present the Iranian peace initiative, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

“Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Seyyed Abbas Araqchi is to set off on a regional tour, as Iran’s special envoy, to promote Tehran’s initiative to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis and the clashes between the Azerbaijan Republic and Armenia,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week.

In Baku, Araghchi met with several high-ranking Azerbaijani officials including President Ilham Aliyev and his assistant Hikmet Hajiyev and Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov.

“The main purpose of the visit is to present the proposed initiative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to resolve this conflict and achieve a lasting peace between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan and, consequently, the region,” said Araghchi, who embarked on his regional tour as the special representative of the Iranian president.

Araghchi described his talks with the Azerbaijani officials as “positive and constructive.”

“Introduced Iran's Regional Initiative to Help in Ending the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict to H. E. Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, in a positive and constructive long meeting,” the deputy foreign minister said in a tweet, following his talks in Baku.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan also hailed the talks as “very fruitful.”

“Araghchi, indeed [held] very fruitful meeting. Azerbaijan and Iran have strong ties of friendship and good neighborly relations. Thanks for your condolences to Azerbaijani martyrs who liberate our lands from occupation and civilians who become target of Armenia's War Crimes,” Hajiyev said in a tweet following a meeting with the Iranian envoy.

After holding discussions with Azerbaijani leadership about the Iranian initiative, the Iranian envoy left Baku for Moscow, where he held talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the situation around the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We had very intensive and fruitful talks in Baku and Moscow, and we are going to hold talks with the Armenian authorities all about finding a solution for peace,” Araghchi said upon his arrival in Yerevan. “Now is a very sensitive time, and a decision must be made as soon as possible to establish peace and a path to peace must be opened.”

The Iranian peace initiative was offered after it was discussed in Tehran and then approved by Iranian officials. It is the first effort by Iran since the beginning of the war in late September to resolve the crisis diplomatically and through cooperation among all countries in the region, namely Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia.

Araghchi and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, have elaborated on the Iranian initiative, saying it is intended to end the violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Araghchi, Iran’s initiative is realistic and based on the principles of international law, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, the need to end occupation, the need to respect the rights of minorities, the return of refugees, non-interference, and the withdrawal of foreign forces from the region.

“We expect these principles to be initially agreed upon, followed by a ceasefire and the start of negotiations,” said Araghchi, adding that all the four countries involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh war – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, and Turkey – have viewed the Iranian peace initiative as positive.

In addition, Zarif has said ensuring the people’s rights, establishing communication channels, creating a mechanism for countries of the region to monitor the implementation of the initiative are parts of the peace plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran to establish peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Zarif and Araghchi also said that Iran is waiting for the four countries to review and then respond to the Iranian initiative. It seems that these countries are pondering over the initiative. Up until now, no official response to the Iranian initiative has been announced. But Iranian officials clearly believe that Iran is in a position to bring peace to the south Caucasus region. Araghchi said Iran is able to play an effective role in resolving the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh due to its abilities in the region and close relations with both sides of the crisis.

“Given the capacities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region and its close relations with the countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia, it is capable of having an effective presence to resolve this crisis, and it, after conducting detailed studies, has presented an initiative to achieve a lasting peace in the Caucasus region, which is important to all regional countries,” pointed out Araghchi, adding that the regional approach of Iran’s initiative is a prominent feature that engages the main players in the region to resolve this crisis.

Iran itself is a main player in the region that, in addition to its diplomatic efforts, has taken military measures to maintain security and stability in its border areas with Azerbaijan and Armenia, a move that proves that Iran is an undeniable partner in any peace talks aimed to end the war. The Iranian peace initiative was presented in this context. The initiative is still under consideration in the region’s countries. But Iran, through taking military and political measures such as dispatching sizable military reinforcements to areas along its borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia and presenting a peace initiative, made it clear that it cannot be excluded from the politico-military developments in the region.

Furthermore, Iran has drawn red lines for the warring sides that they must avoid being tempted to change the internationally recognized borders of the region, a warning that was clearly expressed by several high-ranking military officials in Iran.

As Araghchi visited Iran’s borders with Azerbaijan on Monday, the commander of Iran’s Army warned that Iran will not tolerate any change in international borders.

“Respecting the territorial integrity of countries and preserving the official international borders are among our well-known principles and we will not tolerate any changes in these borders. We have opposed these changes and will continue to do so,” said Major General Seyed Abdolrahim Mousavi.

Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Ground Forces, also echoed the same red line while visiting Iran’s northwestern borders.

“We will not accept change in the geopolitics of borders. This issue is the red line of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pakpour asserted.

This hybrid strategy of military reinforcements and diplomatic efforts made Iran an undeniable partner in peace and stability in the south Caucasus region, a fact that was articulated by Araghchi during his visit to Turkey.

“Frank and productive discussion with Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal in Ankara. Iran and Turkey are two major players with undeniable role in peace and stability of the region,” the Iranian deputy minister said in a tweet following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart.

This role has been assumed largely due to Iran’s balanced approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Iran has refused to take a side in the conflict since the early days of the war. Instead, it chose to use its equal access to both sides of the war to pursue mediation efforts.

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