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The US, EU, Georgia and Iran
09 April, 2015
Georgia Has Much to Gain and Nothing to Lose

The US and Iran have signed a deal. It is a general agreement and there will be six months of negotiating important details, but the agreement now is specific enough that in the end there will not be a barrier to the final detailed agreement. What they agreed was quite good for the West. The Israelis have been the most suspicious, but every Israeli newspaper except the one that is controlled
by the right wing Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, was very positive about the arrangement that was agreed.

The government has not said directly but has hinted that the EU told Georgia to stop the visa-free arrangement and would prevent Georgia’s visa-free travel status with the EU. This is not true.


There were many in America, particularly in the Republican party, who were against the deal, any deal. They tend to be against peace agreements in general, have been against every one since WWII and that they are against anything Obama wants or does. But there are those who are against the deal in Iran as well, not the conservative religious leadership but mainly the most corrupt business leaders. Just as in the Soviet Union, economic isolation always gives an advantage to the corrupt and helps them make money. They tend to lose money when things open up, which is what will soon happen
The current Israeli leadership is very much against a deal, particularly Bibi Netanyahu, who has been the on-and-off Prime Minister of Israel for many years. He and his American backers are also against all peace agreements and like Putin in Russia, and George W Bush in America, have benefited politically from fear among their voters and the us-or-them nationalist rhetoric that they use at every opportunity. Saudi Arabia is also nervous. It is very rich and sees itself as the champion of Sunni Islam. They deeply mistrust Iran, which adheres to Shia Islam. They are regional rivals fighting proxy wars in several ways and places, most recently now in Yemen.

Politically and economically, this deal with Iran is one of the most important things to happen to Georgia’s neighborhood in a long time.

In 2010 Iran signed a treaty with Georgia that citizens of each country could visit the other visa free. This was particularly important for Iranians, because they can visit few places easily because of the sanctions. Almost all those who came were tourists as well as many serious investors but a few were trying to use Georgia to circumvent sanctions. The US Treasury department had sent delegations saying that the sanction busting should be stopped, but they didn’t demand that visa free travel stop immediately. Then the Wall Street Journal, the most conservative US national newspaper, highlighted the money laundering. Within two weeks the Georgian Dream government panicked and unilaterally canceled visa free travel for Iranians, effective immediately. The Iranian government was not happy about this. No serious strategic interests were at stake for them, but they were justifiably insulted. And it was a serious problem for the many Iranians who had invested, and were looking to hop back and forth from Tbilisi to Tehran, many who had their children in some of Tbilisi’s high quality international schools and were studying Georgian.
The government has not said directly but has hinted that the EU told Georgia to stop the visa-free arrangement and would prevent Georgia’s visa-free travel status with the EU. This is not true. Just as with the US, they just wanted the money laundering to stop, which could have easily been done via a less drastic measure than by unilaterally ending visa-free travel. The overwhelming majority of Iranians coming to Georgia were good for Georgia and for Iran and the money launderers were very few.

So what does this mean for Georgia? First of all it is a big opportunity. Iran is a great deal more than oil and gas

The US and Europe see this as part of a bigger picture, one that involves Russia. Iran in the sixties and seventies was seen as corrupt and complex, but ultimately a regional ally. But when the Shah was overthrown and the US Embassy staff was taken hostage, it became an unpredictable pariah state to be isolated. But things have changed. Increasingly, the US and Europe see Russia as the pariah state that should be isolated and Iran, even with its religious leadership, is at least somewhat democratic and a predictable international player. It is also an enormous producer of oil and the US and Europe are working hard to get alternative sources of gas for Europe. Iran has the second highest gas reserves in the world after Russia, but produces only a quarter of what Russia produces. The opening of Iran’s energy sector to the world and most importantly to Europe is of vital importance to NATO and to Europe’s security.
So what does this mean for Georgia? First of all, it is a big opportunity. Iran is a great deal more than oil and gas. It has eighty million people, many of them very educated with a talent for business. They are looking forward to rejoining the world which this deal will allow them to do. Politically and economically, this is one of the most important things to happen to Georgia’s neighborhood in a long time.
The current foreign minister, like most Georgian Foreign Ministers has excellent experience with Europeans and Americans but one of her and the whole government’s biggest jobs will be to not just quickly try to informally improve relations with Iran but also to be administratively ready for the ending of sanctions. This will happen soon. The smartest thing to do would be to bring back visa-free travel for Iranians as quickly as possible. Banks and businesses also should be prepared for the end of sanctions because the countries, banks and businesses that are prepared earliest will reap the greatest benefits. Being ready for the end of these sanctions will be one of the best ways Georgia can prepare for having strong relations with this regional giant. When the administrative arrangements, investment, and business contacts flow smoothly, then the travelers, tourists and cultural connections can flourish.
Georgian history, particularly since the Mongol invasions has been difficult. It fought Persia but also had strong ties with it, including great influence over Persia at times. That contact ended over two hundred years ago when Georgia became a colony of Russia and even now Russia is not comfortable with an independent Georgia. But Iran is no longer in any way a military threat for Georgia, and is very comfortable dealing with an independent sovereign Georgia, in the same way Europe and Turkey are. The first rule of international diplomacy is to gather allies and build relations with any state and any nation that sees you and treats you as an equal. And Georgia has much to gain and nothing to lose but doing that with Iran.

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