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Iranian President Hoping Tajik Visit Will Lead To Better Ties

By Antoine Blua

Iran was the first country to recognize Tajikistan's independence in the early 1990s. Since then, expectations were that the two countries -- which share a common language -- would develop close ties. That has not happened -- and Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is now visiting Tajikistan to try to change the situation.

photo: ISNA

Prague, 13 September 2004 (RFE/RL) - Khatami's three-day trip started on 11 September and featured talks with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov.

The two considered a broad range of issues related to bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, and industry.

Speaking on 12 September, Khatami said his country would do what it could to help the Tajik economy to develop.

"And be sure that our policy and our strategy is to cooperate with Tajikistan in vast areas," Khatami said. "We consider Tajikistan's [development] as [part of our own] development."

Khatami said Iran will invest more than $700 million in the Tajik economy in the coming five years.

Davood Hermidas Bavand, who teaches international law in Tehran, called Khatami's trip part of Iran's effort to develop closer economic relations with Central Asia.

"Iran's [original] expectation to develop an extremely close relationship with Tajikistan gradually caved into insignificance -- once Iran and Turkey engaged in a kind of rivalry," Bavand said. "[Neither country] has been able to fulfill the expectations of Central Asia in economic terms. In light of past experience we learned to engage in commercial and economic terms where thereis a need for the people of Tajikistan and Central Asia as well as for Iran."

Khatami said Iran will allocate money to finish work on Tajikistan's Sangtuda hydroelectric plant on the Vakhsh River. President Rakhmonov said the Iranian side will assume 51 percent of the total construction cost, estimated at about $500 million.

"Fifty-one percent of the Sangtuda hydroelectric plant is the Islamic Republic of Iran's. Forty-nine percent is Tajik and other countries', including Russia," Rakhmonov said. "To complete the construction of this power station in four years, Iran has promised $250 million and the Russian Federation $100 million."

A planned highway linking landlocked Tajikistan and Iran via northern Afghanistan was also high on the agenda of the talks.

Iranian Ambassador to Tajikistan Nasser Sarmadi Parsa earlier expressed dissatisfaction about the current level of bilateral trade, which totaled $100 million in 2003. He stressed that a highway linking Tajikistan and Iran would greatly promote economic cooperation. He noted the 110-kilometer road from Iran to Herat, in Afghanistan, has already been built.

Iran is hoping a series of road projects in Central Asia will spur economic development.

Mohammad-Reza Djalili, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, pointed out that a road link to Central Asia would serve Iran's strategic purposes.

"Iran also has a strategic interest. The reconstruction of communication infrastructure -- roads, bridges, etc -- in Tajikistan and linking them to the Iranian border through Afghanistan, would create a tremendous inter-Asiatic communication route. Land transportation could then be done from China to Europe through Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Iran," Djalili said.

On 14 September, Khatami is expected to deliver a speech at the opening session of the summit of heads of state of the Economic Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping including the five central Asian states, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Turkey.

(Farangiz Najibullah of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2004 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 9/14/04 ... --

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