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Elections in Iran and Azerbaijan: “Stability first!”

Friday, on May 19, Iran will be electing a new president. There are two favorites: incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and former prosecutor, custodian of Astan Quds Razavi charitable foundation, cleric Ebrahim Raisi.

While the incumbent president advocates for stability and normalization of relations with the West, the conservative cleric Raisi is known to be a severe and hardline person. He sentenced to death thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

The neighboring Azerbaijan will be closely following the elections in Iran. Talking to EADaily, Azerbaijani political analysts Tofiq Abbasov and Elhan Shahinoglu share their views about the election results and the impact they will have on the Azerbaijani-Iranian relations and the situation in the region.

Is change of power possible in Iran or Rouhani’s victory is predetermined?

Tofiq Abbasov: I think, Hassan Rouhani will retain his post. Whatever the outcome, together with his team he has proved his political flexibility amid fundamental problems and obstacles to their settlement.

Truly, he failed to implement most of the planned economic reforms to increase the social state of the people. However, he shares the responsibility for failing to fulfill his promises with Western countries that promised to ease the sanctions in response to the nuclear deal. Iran kept his promises and continues to implement all the commitments under Vienna agreements. Meantime, the West goes on obstructions again. In such situation, there will hardly be any alternative to “resistance economy,” and Rouhani knows what to do next despite restrictions. Active voters support him in this issue.

Elhan Shahinoglu: Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has the highest chances to win. According to statistics, every president in that country was elected for a second term after the Islamic Revolution. Therefore, I think, Iranians will not break traditions. Besides, Iran’s religious leader Ali Khamenei is satisfied with Hassan Rouhani’s policy, which is an important fact.

How will elections affect the relations with the South Caucasus states, particularly Azerbaijan?

T. A.: No significant changes are anticipated. Normalization process is underway with Azerbaijan. There is a breakthrough, though not big, in the economic relations. Commodity turnover is growing which is quite promising.

As for the political dialogue, Baku and Tehran have found the optimal format of coordination and consultations. Therefore, stability in the relations will be preserved.

E. Sh.: Azerbaijan will benefit if Rouhani remains the president. It was under him that the economic relations of Iran and Azerbaijan attained a new quality. The two countries are involved in regional projects. Iran plans to build several plants in the territory of Azerbaijan. Simultaneously, Azerbaijan invests in construction of the railway that will connect Iranian towns of Astara and Resht.

What is Iran’s stance on the Karabakh conflict? Will it change after elections?

T.A.: No major changes are expected in the given area. Tehran supports peaceful resolution of the conflict and understands that pro-Armenian stance is harmful to its interests, since justice is on Azerbaijan’s side and Armenia must be urged to respects the international law.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan is evidently the strongest party to the conflict, it has equal relations with all its neighbors, except Armenia that represents risks to it.

And finally, Azerbaijan has developed into an influential country and many countries build favorable relations with it. In such case, why shouldn’t Iran take advantage of the preferences the new ties with Baku will bring to it? Judging from these circumstances, Azerbaijan will excel Armenia in the diplomatic relations with the southern neighbor.

E. Sh.: Baku would like to get more support from Tehran in the Karabakh issue. So far, Iran balances between Azerbaijan and Armenia. I do not think that Tehran’s stance may change despite the outcome of the presidential election.

Will the elections in Iran influence the situation in the Middle East and its relations with the key actors, Russia and U.S.?

T. A.: Tehran will hardly start changing the Middle East paradigm drastically. It will be insisting on territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq. It will be supporting Bashar al-Assad to the utmost. It is a strategic task for Iran to keep the alliance with Syria and its presence in the Mediterranean zone.

No rapprochement with U.S. should be anticipated. The tension in the relations will just grow. Remote relations with Washington will be maintained. Besides, new waves of confrontation may emerge both in the diplomatic field and in the area of the Persian Gulf where the U.S. Navy is deployed.

I think the current level of relations with Russia will be maintained as well. No further rapprochement should be expected. Tehran has many questions to Moscow about the Syrian issue, interaction in the regional policy and sluggish economic ties. The Iranian establishment is concerned that Russia does not want the Islamic Republic to enhance its positions in the region. That is why, Iran will continue its policy of reasonable and proportional contact with Moscow that has relevant commitments to Tel Aviv.

A. Sh.: In case Hassan Rouhani wins, he will continue the same foreign policy towards the West and Russia. Actually, Tehran will keep cooperating with Moscow in Syria and continue its dialogue with the West on the nuclear issue. By signing the nuclear deal, Rouhani has stabilized Tehran’s policy significantly.

Interviewed by Anar Huseynov

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