U.S.- Kazakhstan Business Forum held in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 14, 2017
In the political literature of recent years, the term 5+1 was more than anything else associating with the combination of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany in the course of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, but over the past two years, 5+1 has also found another meaning, and it has also been used for the cooperation between the five Central Asian countries and the United States, with the difference that instead of P5+1 which was used for nuclear negotiations with Iran, C5+1 is used to show the combination referring to the Central Asian countries and America. C5+1 was first introduced during John Kerry’s, the then US Secretary of State, visit to Central Asia, a trip which lasted from October 31 to November 3, 2015, during which John Kerry met with senior officials from the five countries in the Central Asian region while visiting Bishkek, Samarkand, Astana, Dushanbe and Ashgabat, and consulted with them. In addition to separate meetings being held between the senior officials, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the joint meeting between the United States and the five Central Asian countries under C5+1 took place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The second meeting of C5+ 1 was held in April 8, 2016 in Washington and the third meeting of C5+1 took place on the sidelines of the OSCE summit in Hamburg, Germany, in December 8, 2016. However, since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency in January 2017 so far (June 2017), no other meeting was held under C5+1 between the United States and the five Central Asian countries.
Japan is another country that, years before the United States, has been trying to take an integrated and a coordinated policy toward Central Asia in the face of China’s growing presence in Central Asia and the role this region plays in the field of energy supply and economic and trade relations. The desired mechanism for Tokyo, called Central Asia plus Japan dialogue, was formed on August 28, 2004, and since that time, joint meetings between Central Asia and Japan at the level of foreign ministers have been held in Astana, Kazakhstan, (August 28, 2004), Tashkent, Uzbekistan, (March 4, 2005), Tokyo, Japan, (November 10, 2012), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, (July 17, 2014) and Ashgabat Turkmenistan, (May 1, 2017). During the recent meeting held between the Central Asian countries and Japan in Ashgabat, the rotating presidency was given from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan, and the upcoming summit will be held in Dushanbe in 2018. It is worth noting that in the fifth meeting of the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries and Japan held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in 2014, a 10-year intergovernmental cooperation agreement between the countries of Central Asia and Japan was signed, and in line with this mechanism, the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, like John Kerry, made his regular trip to the five Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - from October 22-28, 2015. This clearly illustrates the efforts of Japan in implementing a coordinated diplomatic policy and approach toward the Central Asian region.
The People’s Republic of China has also taken an effort almost similar to that of the United States and Japan in the Central Asia, and China’s President, Xi Jinping, made his regular trip to the four Central Asian countries (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) from September 3-13, 2013, during which he introduced the Silk Road initiative called “One Belt, One Road”. That is why Xi Jinping’s trip is also referred to as a Central Asian tour. Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have also tried in recent years to implement an integrated and a coordinated approach toward this region, and the establishment of the “Arab Cooperation and Economic Forum with Central Asia and Azerbaijan” can be considered as a symbol of this integrated and coordinated approach.
All issues mentioned here regarding the diplomatic movements of the United States, Japan, China, and Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, in Central Asia clearly show the efforts of these actors to formulate and implement a balanced approach based on “5+1 pattern”. However, a look at Iran’s diplomatic relations with the Central Asian countries suggests that Iran is somehow considered as the pioneer for this balanced approach; using it in the early 1990s. As the late Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, then the President of Iran, visited, with the exception of Tajikistan which was involved in the civil war, the four Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - in 1994. Unfortunately, this balanced approach, called “the Diplomatic Tour of Iran in Central Asia” was not followed by other Iranian governments. It is worthy to note that at the same time (under the presidency of the late Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani), we could witness an almost balanced approach taken toward the Caucasus region. The presence of Levon Ter-Petrosyan in the opening ceremony of Bafgh -Bandar Abbas railway in 1995 in parallel to the presence of Heydar Aliyev, in the opening ceremony of Sarakhs- Tajan railway in May 1996, the visit of Mr. Hassan Habibi, the then first vice president of the Iranian President, in less than three months, to Baku (October 28, 1996), Tbilisi (November 4, 1996) and Yerevan (December 1996), and the simultaneous visit of Mr. Ali-Akbar Velayati to Yerevan and Baku in April 1997, as well as the visit of the then Georgia’s President, Eduard Shevardnadze, to Iran in 1993 and in parallel to it, the late Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani’s visit to Georgia in April 1995 clearly demonstrate the fact that Iran took an almost balanced approach in the field of diplomatic relations toward the Caucasus region at this time, which, unfortunately, was not followed by next Iranian governments.
In fact, if Iran’s foreign policy and its diplomatic relations with countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus region is seen from this point of view, it can be concluded that an almost balanced approach of Iran in these regions has found a more unbalanced course after the presidency of the late Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani. Therefore, given the past and relatively successful diplomatic experiences of Iran, as well as the efforts made by actors such as the United States, Japan, China and Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, to formulate and implement a balanced approach based on “5+1 pattern” in Central Asia, it is required that the major diplomacy of Iran in this region as well as in the Caucasus region consider the “balanced approach in the field of diplomacy” more seriously, and provide a ground for the simultaneous visits of the Iranian Foreign Minister and President to the five Central Asian countries as well as to the three countries in the South Caucasus region, at another time, in the form of “regular trips” and “diplomatic tours”. Experiences of countries such as the United States and Japan in Central Asia, as well as those of France in the South Caucasus region (including the simultaneous trip of the then President Nicolas Sarkozy to the three countries in the South Caucasus in October 2011, and that this was repeated by the then President Francois Hollande in May 2014) show that taking a balanced approach toward the countries in these regions can be achieved through a targeted planning. There is no doubt that in the process of advancing “the management of a balanced approach in the field of diplomacy”, “balanced” does not mean “equal”, and Iran can advance its desired foreign policy in accordance with the different capacities and capabilities of countries in the Central Asia and the Caucasus region. The important point is to maintain a balanced approach in the field of major diplomacy which is very important in regulating Iran’s relations with countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia and Armenia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus.
© Abrar Moaser Tehran
Vali Kaleji, an expert at Iran's Center for Strategic Research, is the senior fellow at IRAS
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