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Iran, Georgia mull corridor linking Persian Gulf to Black Sea

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Linking the Persian Gulf in the south to the Caspian Sea in the north is the key plank of connectivity programs being sought by Iran.

Iran and Georgia have discussed problems of Iranian transit trucks and agreed to accelerate the finalization of a corridor linking the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, a senior official says.

According to General Manager of Iran's Road Maintenance and Transportation Organization Javad Hedayati Tuesday, development of regional transit cooperation and establishment of new corridors is a priority of the new government.

"The creation of new corridors, in addition to facilitating trade, will lead to revenue generation for the country and reduce transportation costs," IRNA quoted him as telling a meeting of a joint transport commission in Tbilisi.

Linking the Persian Gulf in the south to the Caspian Sea in the north is the key plank of connectivity programs being sought by Iran and "the creation of a corridor from the Persian Gulf to Georgia and the Black Sea is one of these plans", Hedayati said.

According to the official, similar negotiations are being held with Azerbaijan which connects Iran to Georgia and up to the Black Sea through Turkey.

"The Iranian side stressed the importance of strengthening regional transit based on multilateral advantages, and reviving the transit networks of the two sides with the aim of shortening transit routes and reducing costs," Hedayati said.

It was decided to take immediate steps to solve the existing problems and simplify the passage of trucks, he added.

The negotiations come in the wake of a brief dispute over Azerbaijan's decision to impose customs duties on Iranian truck drivers transiting through the newly-liberated territories and Iranian supplies of fuel and other goods to Armenia. 

Oil by-products like petrol, diesel and asphalt for road construction are imported to Karabakh - a breakaway region controlled by Armenians, but internationally recognized as the territory of Azerbaijan - through companies in Armenia that ship the products with privately operated trucks.

Azerbaijan claims some of the trucks "illegally" entering Karabakh are Iranian. Last month, the country released two Iranian truck drivers whom it had detained for allegedly entering Karabakh. Iran’s Roads and Transportation Organization then issued a ban on the country’s trucks traveling to the isolated enclave.

Since the row, a debate has raged in Iran over the need to shift the country's transit routes to Armenia away from the Azerbaijani territory, but Hedayati said in a recent interview that the idea has to go with the lie of the land.

"The number of our transit trucks passing through the Armenian territory a year is a single digit. It is a mountainous route and very difficult to cross, especially in winter, when trucks travel a 400 km route sometimes in three days. It has very sharp turns and the driving conditions are very difficult. Many of our trucks got into trouble there before and fell into the ravine in the winter. So the route is not very good compared to the other alternatives we have to access Europe," he told Tasnim news agency.

"Our main route to Europe is through Turkey and the second route is through Azerbaijan," Hedayati said, adding the Armenia route is still important to Iran as an alternative in case a problem arises with the two corridors.

Earlier this week, Azerbaijan's Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev traveled to Tehran and met a number of Iranian officials with the aim of mending fences.

Iran's Minister of Petroleum Javad Owji said the two countries were looking at finalizing soon a number of energy deals, including joint development of an oil field in the Caspian Sea.

"We discussed a few new projects and I believe that new documents will be signed in the near future as the result of these talks," Mustafayev was quoted as saying by IRNA.

In 2004, Baku and Tehran agreed a swap deal under which Azerbaijan would supply gas to the northwestern Iranian city of Astara, and in return Iran would supply Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan with 85 percent of the same volume – the difference amounting to a transit fee.

Owji said some agreements had been reached between the two sides on possible gas swaps from neighboring countries to Azerbaijan – mentioning Turkmenistan as a possible source of gas – and on the supply of gas to Nakhchivan, and that initial talks had taken place on development of Caspian oil and gas fields.

Iran and Azerbaijan have yet to complete a freight railway route which they launched on a trial basis in 2017. The planned freight route, called the North-South International Transport Corridor, aims to connect northern Europe to South Asia by using the railways of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia.  

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