Looking longingly northwards.

Author:Hyman, Anthony
Position:Economic cooperation between Iran and the Muslim republics of Central Asia
 
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A BREAKTHROUGH IN Iran's relations with Uzbekistan came after an official visit to Iran by President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan at the end of November. The visit ended with firm agreements for cooperation and an invitation to Iran's President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani to pay a state visit to Uzbekistan early in 1993. The visit was the first made to Iran by the Uzbek leader, and naturally raised expectations about an improvement in relations between the two countries. Iranian-Uzbek relations are starting from a very low point, and they are bound to grow considerably.

Claims by Iranian newspapers that Tehran represents "a second home" for the leaders of the ex-Soviet Muslim republics were little more than flowery compliments. Moscow remains much more familiar than Tehran to all the Central Asian leaders. However, the suspicions about Iran's policy in the region which are undoubtedly present in Tashkent's official circles do appear to have been lessened by the visit.

The joint communique issued by the two presidents stressed the need for an end to fighting in both Afghanistan and Tajikstan, and call for non-interference in the affairs of both neighbouring states, as well as respect for all existing borders between states of the region. The Karimov government's worries that Iran is at the root of the civil war in Tajikstan and deliberately stirring up political instability in the region in the name of Islamic revolution have been eased.

For the future, the two governments intend to go ahead and develop joint ventures for mutual benefit. Agreements have been signed in specific fields of banking, insurance, staging of exhibitions and exchanges of official delegations. The Uzbekistan government is keen to extend its communications links with Iran, and wants a railway extension to connect the Central Asian rail network to Mashhad in Iran's Khorasan province.

An air transport accord was also signed under which joint transport companies will be created. Iran will lease aircraft and crews from the large fleet of Uzbekistan Hava Yollari in 1993, and regular flights between Tehran and Tashkent are due to begin early in the year.

Cultural links will be the most obvious area to build upon. Iranian culture enjoys undoubted prestige in Uzbekistan, as in other parts of Central Asia. However, this historic prestige has diminished greatly under the impact of Communist rule, with fundamental changes in society and a switch away from the Persian language to Uzbek...

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