‘New Silk Road’ without Iran?

The White House will not compromise on Iran’s nuclear programme, says Iranian Rear Admiral Au Fadavi.

The United States 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”.

The Silk Road was never a single highway. The system included many branches of caravan routes that passed through empires and small states, crossed rivers and steppes, got over mountain passes and bypassed deserts and water barriers.
Empires collapsed, states broke up, the trade and political situation in the world changed, and as a consequence, routes of the Silk Road underwent changes.

The caravan trade was associated with high profits and great risks. However, both states and nomads were objectively interested in maintaining commercial communications. 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, ie the organisation of transport.

The Silk Road was not just a road, but a serious business project, an activity whose object was the organisation and management of product promotion and creating product distribution infrastructure. Now all this is commonly referred to as the logistics and the modern world’s interest to it is extremely high.

At a recent conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, which addressed the problem of regional economic co-operation, related to Afghanistan, the US promoted its initiative called the “New Silk Road”. The point of this “road” is that it should exclude Iran, ie 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 Blake, spoke against the plans of construction of the trunk railway from Kashgar (China) to Herat (Afghanistan) and then to Iran. 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 in 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 how possible it was 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.

“Let me say that, in accordance with US sanctions against Iran, the US urges all countries in the region to avoid the trade and other interactions with the government of Iran, in order to force Iran to co-operate with the international community and to allay fears of the latter in connection with its nuclear programme. We believe there are a number of very good alternatives. For example, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-lndia 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 enjoy support of all four member countries.”

What is the connection between the gas pipeline and the railway, and how could it allow China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to gain access to South Asian countries and cargo ports in the Indian Ocean? That remains a mystery of American diplomacy.

In the eastern direction, particularly in politics towards Iran, the White House put a foot in it in an alarming rate. For example, for the increasing its influence in region, Iran is obliged, ironically, to the US. By removing Iraq from the political stage in the Middle East, the US has eliminated Iran’s main enemy in the Arab world and created a vacuum-filled now by Iran. For more than 10 years, Americans have been 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 kilometres of uncontrollable and divided in dozens of armed enclaves of Afghanistan, does not confuse “the orientalists” from Washington.

For Russia, Iran, with its Islamic form of government, does not constitute a threat. The early ’90s 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 benefits of the Iranian model of state government in Muslim countries do not cause Russia and its allies any national security problems.

In any case, Russia opened its Silk Road with the most active participation of Iran and across its territory. In St Petersburg, on September 12 2000 an inter-governmental agreement on North-South International Transport Corridor was signed between Russia, Iran and India. 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 4 500 kilometres – 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.

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