Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 30 Issue 10
Author: Silvia Boltuc
Kazakhstan’s desire to increase exports to Iran might hugely impact geopolitical dynamics in Eurasia, considering Astana’s desire to diversify and enhance its trade and economic partners to decrease Russia and China’s influence and Tehran’s necessity to overcome Western sanctions.
On April 27th, 2023, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Alikhan Smailov, met with the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi. Conveying greetings to the President of Iran from the leader of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Alikhan Smailov noted that cooperation with Iran is one of the most priority vectors in Kazakhstan.
According to the Prime Minister, Kazakhstan and Iran are working on the practical implementation of the agreements reached earlier. As part of building up bilateral cooperation, the first meeting of the Kazakh-Iranian Working Group on Agriculture will be held in Tehran this year, and there are plans to appoint a special trade representative at the Kazakh Embassy in Iran.
During the meeting, the Head of the Government of Kazakhstan and the Iranian President also exchanged views on the prospects for developing trade, economic and investment cooperation, issues of cross-border collaboration and partnership in the cultural and humanitarian field.
During his official visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Alikhan Smailov held talks with the First Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Mokhber.
The Kazakh Prime Minister stressed that Iran is one of the strategic partners of Kazakhstan in the Persian Gulf. Over the past year, the trade turnover between the countries increased by almost 20%, amounting to $528 million. At the same time, Kazakhstan is ready to increase exports of 75 commodity items for about $250 million.
According to Alikhan Smailov, it is especially promising to increase supplies in agriculture, the share of which in mutual trade exceeds 70%. He stated that there is an opportunity to increase the turnover of agricultural products up to $1 billion.
Another crucial area is the development of international transport corridors by removing administrative and technical barriers, modernising roads and railways, and increasing maritime infrastructure’s logistics capacity. The parties noted that the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is important, precisely the Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran route.
At the end of the meeting, there was a ceremony of signing bilateral interdepartmental and commercial documents, including memorandums on cooperation in the fields of tourism, sports, youth work and training of customs officers, as well as an agreement on the development of transportation between the ports of Kuryk and Amirabad.
Iran – Kazakhstan relations: a brief overview
In recent years, Iran and Kazakhstan have long enjoyed diplomatic and economic ties bolstered through strategic trade, industry, and transportation partnerships.
The two countries share a common border, and their proximity has led to significant cross-border trade, with Iran being a major oil importer from Kazakhstan. Additionally, Kazakhstan has become an essential hub for Iran’s trade with the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Kazakhstan is a member.
These close relations have been further strengthened by frequent high-level visits, with officials from both countries exchanging visits and attending joint events.
One key area of cooperation between the two countries has been in the energy sector, with Kazakhstan providing Iran access to its oil reserves while Iran exports electricity to Kazakhstan.
Additionally, Iran and Kazakhstan have been working to expand their transportation links, with rail links being established between the two countries.
Over the years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has consolidated its relations with the countries of Central Asia, exploiting either the Persian common ethnic-cultural element or proposing itself as a logistic hub for the energy sector and trade corridors.
Due to the Western sanctions against Tehran and considering the current situation in the international arena linked with the Ukraine conflict, Iran might continue to interact with the Central Asian states on a bilateral basis, identifying the most advantageous areas for a balanced rapprochement of all parties.
In fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran has relaunched itself as a primary Eurasian energy hub, connecting its electricity grids with those of many regional entities. In addition, the country has entered the main regional economic corridors: the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC) and the New Silk Road (BRI). In this context, Iranian ports have an essential role.
Kazakhstan’s strategic location and its role as a neutral and constructive intermediary have enabled it to serve as an essential contributor to regional security and stability. It has played a significant role in facilitating the peaceful resolution of conflicts, such as the Afghan peace process, and has been a frequent participant in multilateral security cooperation initiatives.
Kazakhstan has also helped promote regional dialogue and understanding, including cultural exchanges and people-to-people connections. Overall, Kazakhstan’s role in Central Asia has been critical to the region’s development and stability, and it will continue to play a crucial role in the future.
Thanks to its strategic position in Central Asia and natural resources, Kazakhstan has attracted the interest of different foreign countries such as Iran. Looking at the recent meeting between the Kazakh Prime Minister and Iranian officials, it is possible to state that Iran and Kazakhstan share a joint commitment to strengthening their ties based on a shared vision of regional cooperation and stability.
The two countries have demonstrated their ability to work together despite challenges, such as the impact of sanctions on Iran’s economy. By leveraging their complementary strengths and continuing to deepen their ties through strategic partnerships in industry, transportation, and other areas, Iran and Kazakhstan can seek to strengthen their relations further and play a leading role in promoting regional stability and economic growth.
On the other hand, close cooperation between Astana and Tehran might endanger Kazakhstan’s position in the eyes of Western countries. Being a political and commercial partner of Iran, considering the close relations between Astana and Moscow and Astana and Beijing, might jeopardise Kazakhstan’s strategy to open the country to Western investments and diplomatic cooperation.