Georgia Attempts to Improve Relations with Iran

Officials in Tbilisi are making visits to Iran more frequently. The political calendar is halfway through for the year and Georgian officials have visited Tehran three times.

In January of this year Parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili visited the Iranian capital. In May the then Minister of Economy and current Head of Foreign Affairs, Giorgi Kvirikashvili visited the Islamic Republic. A third visit was made in August, with the Parliamentary delegation led by Vice-Premier Gubaz Sanikidze. Some people believe these visits are being made so the Georgian Government can make up for cancelling the Visa-free regime with Iran two years ago.

In July 2013, when the visa-free regime was cancelled on the Georgian side, a group of government experts blamed pressure from the United States and Israel for the cancellation. Some believed that the cancellation was in fact due to the new government dismantling the old diplomatic strategy from the ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and that the US and Israeli governments played no part in it. After the establishment of the new government the number of Iranian citizens visiting Georgia plunged dramatically. In order to improve relations between Iran and Georgia there were negotiations about the future of the nuclear program in Iran.

According to the official data the trade turnout between Georgia and Iran was estimated at around $200 million with the number expected to increase to between $2-3 billion. According to the Georgian media, the country is going to start exporting water to Iran soon, with Iran providing gas to Georgia in return. This would change the energy map for the region and would present a heavy competitor for the Russian market in the region.

Last month Gubaz Sanikidze returned from Tehran and spoke on the exchange with Iran. He said “At the meeting we spoke about the issue of providing irrigation water from Georgia to Iran. We also discussed possibilities of increasing transportation from Tehran via Georgia.”

In a press release on the Georgian Parliament website it states that there are also discussions with trading electricity and oil as well as water and gas.

In a visit to Tehran in May the then Minister of Economy Girogi Kvirikashvili held discussions about the export of drinking water from Georgia to Iran. The Iranian Labour and Social Protection minister, Ali Rabie, the country hopes that it will be possible to export Georgian water to Iran. He said “Georgia has quite a big water resource that could fill in the deficit in the Urmia Lake.” The 36 billion cubic metre lake has recently receded to only 2 billion cubic metres with the rivers running into it unable to fill the lake.

Georgian Ecologists however predict an ecological catastrophe in Eastern Europe if the project is implemented. It is unknown when the draining of water from Georgia to Lake Urmia will begin. Representatives from the Ministry of Economy have stated that this is currently only an idea and that no specific project has been decided yet. 

Zaza Jgharkava

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