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The U.S. vigorously promotes its initiative called New Silk Road. Its main feature is that it should try very hard and - get round Iran. That is, it is proposed to pave a new transport corridor from Central to South Asia, excepting “the rogue state”. Contrary to geography, logistics, common sense.
The Silk Road was never a single highway. His system included many branches of caravan routes that passed through empires and small states, crossed rivers and steppes, got over the mountain passes, bypassed deserts and water barriers. The empires collapsed, the states broke up, the trade and political situation in the world changed, and as a consequence, the routes of the Silk Road underwent changes. The caravan trade was associated not only with high profits, but also with great risk. However, both the states and the nomads were objectively interested in maintaining commercial communications. The rulers of the lands received income from customs levied in the towns along the caravan routes. In order not to lose this income, the rulers of Asian countries passed strict laws protecting merchants. The caravan trade required complicated maintenance. There were special merchants or companies, who took upon themselves the transportation of goods, i.e. the organization of transport.
That is, the Silk Road was not just a road, but a serious business project, an activity whose object was the organization and management of product promotion, as well as creating the product distribution infrastructure. Now all this is commonly refered to as the logistics and the modern world’s interest to it is extremely high.
At a recent conference in Dushanbe which addressed the problem of regional economic cooperation, related to Afghanistan, the United States promoted its initiative called the New Silk Road. The point of this “road” is that it should exclude Iran, i.e. the new transport corridor from Central to South Asia must go around “the rogue state”. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake spoke against the plans of construction of the trunk railway from Kashgar (China) to Herat (Afghanistan) and then to Iran. More specifically, the idea of uniting China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran within the framework of a regional project “does not warm” the Americans. The fact is that is this project the first part is assigned to Iran, which for Washington is like a burr in the saddle.
At the press conference Blake was asked a question how in general it is possible to consider integration projects in the region between Central and South Asia without the involvement of Iranians, because in Afghanistan there is no railway network so far. The answer was remarkable by its great argumentation: “Let me say that, in accordance with U.S. sanctions against Iran, the United States urges all countries in the region to avoid the trade and other interactions with the government of Iran, in order to force Iran to cooperate with the international community and to allay the fears of the latter in connection with its nuclear program. We believe there are a number of very good alternatives. For example, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-India pipeline is a very good alternative to a number of other proposed pipelines, and we actively lobby for this project, the TAPI project. I think it’s very important that the work on them begins to advance and enjoys support of all four member countries.”
What is the connection between the gas pipeline and the railway, and how it could allow China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to gain access to South Asian countries and cargo ports in the Indian Ocean, remains a mystery of American diplomacy.
In the eastern direction, particularly in politics toward Iran, the White House put foot in it with an alarming rate. For example, for the increasing of its influence in the region, Iran is obliged, ironically, to the United States. By removing Iraq from the political stage in the Middle East, the U.S. administration has eliminated Iran’s main enemy in the Arab world and created a vacuum filled now by Iran. More than 10 years, Americans are trying to pacify Afghanistan, while completely ignoring the Iranian experience in fighting the Taliban. Right now they are offering Central Asia a new Silk Road through the pipeline, whose main “advantage” is that it will bypass the territory of Iran. But the fact that gas-rich Turkmenistan and India which is short of blue-sky fuel separated by hundreds of kilometers of uncontrollable and divided in dozens of armed enclaves of Afghanistan, does not confuse “the orientalists” from Washington.
At one of the sessions of the Afghanistan conference - in the course of Iranian president’s speech - the U.S. delegation demonstratively left the hall. As explained by Assistant Secretary of State, his delegation did not want to hear criticism of the U.S. administration and its allies in respect of their policy in Afghanistan. “We have decided to leave the hall in protest against these baseless accusations, because we obviously would not be able to answer them,” added Blake. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs did not explain why there was no opportunity to respond. Maybe because they are not confident in the arguments? It would be good to listen to Ahmadinejad - the Afghan issue for his government is one of the sore subjects. The fight alone against the drug transit from the “neighbors” takes away from the state budget $800 million annually. It may be also recalled that it is Iran that for many years has supported the Northern Coalition against the Taliban, preventing the spread of their influence on the countries of the region, including Tajikistan.
For Russia, Iran, with its Islamic form of government, does not constitute a threat. The early 1990s predictions about the danger of Iran’s expansion into former Soviet republics of Southern Caucasus and Central Asia proved wrong. The ideological firmness and intransigence of the religious leadership of the country, its desire to become a regional leader and demonstrate the benefits of the Iranian model of state government in Muslim countries do not cause for Russia and its allies any national security problems.
In any case, Russia opened its Silk Road by with the most active participation of Iran and across its territory. In St. Petersburg, on September 12, 2000 an intergovernmental agreement on North-South International Transport Corridor was signed between Russia, Iran and India. The depository of the agreement was selected Iran. The North–South project body is a coordinating council, the presidency of which is carried out by member countries in order of annual rotation. Currently Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Oman, and Syria joined the agreement. Turkey and Ukraine have applied for accession.
The interest of many countries in the ITC is not coincidental; its land bridge of length about 4.5 thousand kilometers - from the Baltic to the port of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf - will connect north-western and central Europe with the countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The main advantages of the corridor over other routes (in particular over the sea route through the Suez Canal) are that it reduces the way of goods more than twice. In such a case the cost of transportation is substantially less than that of overseas transportation.
There are three routes of goods from Russia and Central Asian along the North-South corridor, and they all lead to Iran. The Transcaspian - through the ports of Astrakhan, Olya and Makhachkala. Import and export of goods to the ports is carried out by the Russian railways. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, having access to the Russian railways network, in 2011 completed the construction of their sections of a single branch line with direct access to Iran on Tejen–Sarahs border crossing. There is also a western branch of the ITC: Astrakhan-Makhachkala-Samur direction, then on the territory of Azerbaijan with access to Iran through the border station of Astara. Now the Iranian side is building the Ghazvin-Rasht-Anzali port railway line with a branch to the Astara till the border with Azerbaijan. In addition, Iran is building the Bafq-Zahedan railway line, which will provide a direct connection between Iran and Pakistan. This will ensure the access of the North–South Corridor to South Asian countries without additional transshipment at ports of Iran, located on the Persian Gulf. According to experts, the commodity market of the North-South ITC is estimated at 25-26 million tons of cargo in 2015. And Iran makes a significant contribution to this prospect. Now the aggregate capacity of the four major Iranian ports is one-and-a-half to two times more than the combined capacity of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan.
The Tehran leaders are hoping that the presidency of Vladimir Putin will lead their country’s relations with Moscow to a more confidence level. Of course, in the face of possible military confrontation with the U.S., Iranians would like to obtain certain guarantees from Russia. Iran does not rule out the possibility of reaching a higher level of integration with Russia and its partners and perhaps becoming a member of the Eurasian Union, for whose logistics the North-South International Transit Corridor passing through the Iranian territory would be very helpful.