Iran’s relationship with the Caucasus, especially with Armenia and Azerbaijan, are critical as those countries are on its northern and western borders. Armenia is a partner to Iran in every sense and dependent upon it. If Washington can pressure those governments, it can advance its own interests in the Caucasus, and strike at Iran and its Russia partner, as well.
Washington’s best interest may lie in greater engagement in the Caucasus, which may also reduce Russian pressure in Turkey and provides a basis for advancing the troubled U.S.-Turkey alliance.
According to Stephen Blank, Ph.D., senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, and former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, this may be easily accomplished. In his article for The Hill he writes, “For years Azerbaijan and Iran were consumed by mutual suspicion and Azerbaijan is still mistrustful of Iran despite the fact that bilateral ties have improved since 2012. At that time Iranian terror plots against both Baku and Israel were uncovered leading to a crisis in the relationship.”
Blank explains, “Iran regards Azerbaijan as a platform for stirring unrest among its huge Azeri minority, a renegade Shiite state that is far too chummy with Israel and the United States and in many respects an energy-exporting rival. Yet, under pressure from Washington, it has to shore up its northern border and endeavor to keep Baku from moving too close to Washington.”
He adds, “Armenia, on the other hand, precisely because of its enduring antagonism with Azerbaijan is quite close to Iran, which supported it throughout its independence and in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Armenia has also joined with Iran in major infrastructure and economic projects. This was meant to alleviate the pressure imposed by Turkey in its blockade of Armenia due to the war with Azerbaijan. As a result, Armenia is not only a client state of Russia that hosts major Russian military bases and infrastructure, it also is Iran’s main partner in the Caucasus.”
The U.S. cannot advance its interests or its values of democracy and good governance, he says, without demonstrating strong interest in security agendas. Without this, those governments have no reason to take U.S. interests seriously. Blank believes that this is a good place to bring pressure on Tehran.