Border officials of Iran and Azerbaijan this week met to discuss a planned 1,300-metre multi-lane dual carriageway that will span the border of the two countries by the city of Astara located on the shores of the Caspian Sea, according to AzerNews. Astara itself essentially spans the border, with Astara, Iran, a short walk from Astara, Azerbaijan.
Trade between the neighbouring countries has increased significantly in recent years primarily because Azerbaijan uses its location between Iran and Russia to its advantage to form a trade hub. However, despite the increase in trade, the existing infrastructure linking Iran and Azerbaijan is antiquated. Huge queues of people are typically seen on both sides of the border gate facility, which dates back to the USSR era. Astara in Iran, with its beaches and temperate rainforest, is seen as a big tourist destination for Iranians and foreigners, especially visitors from the Caucasus.
Construction of the “Astara-Astara” highway has started, Iranian Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Khayrullah Khademi has told local media.
In recent comments, he said that "the transit of products and the transportation of citizens between Iran and Azerbaijan is one of the main tasks." He added: "In this regard, a new border terminal has been built outside the city,"
It is believed the new bypass will connect with the main Iranian highway that runs by the northern border.
Rauf Mammadov, an expert and resident scholar on energy policy at The Middle East Institute, said that the new motorway would certainly be beneficial for cross-border trade.
“The project is a critical element of Baku's vision to enhance the country's capabilities as a North-South transit corridor. In 2018, Azerbaijan completed the revamp of the Alat-Astara highway which connects Baku with the Iranian border, and is currently working on further expanding it,” Mammadov said.
Social media abuzz as military man slips ring on counterpart's finger
The announcement of the new motorway became a mere side event as a social media buzz developed in response to scenes on camera that occurred when Iran’s Border Guard Commander Brigadier General Ghasem Rezaie met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Colonel-General Elchin Guliyev. The former placed his “aqeeq” religious ring on what appeared to be the wedding finger of the latter. The military men were quickly subjected to jokes and ridicule in a wave of social media response.
Jokes from Azerbaijani Twitter users included: “I guess this makes us Iran’s third wife.”
Iranian and Azeri military officials met today in Astara on the border between the two countries and then this quite bizarre moment happened. pic.twitter.com/btYWrSmi9M— Daniel Rád (@DanielKRad)
Routes across Azerbaijan are important components of the developing International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), with which officials want to build trade flows that, for consignments taking the maximum available journey, will be shipped all the way from the western coast of India to Iran’s sole oceanic port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman and then, by road and rail, onwards via Iran and Azerbaijan to Russia or northern Europe. INSTC has seen Moscow, Baku and Tehran invest substantially in improving ageing infrastructure.
In October, Iran and Azerbaijan signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on developing at least six joint ventures in their borderlands.
Reports in Persian-language media have also stated that Iran and Azerbaijan plan to invest funds in half a dozen or more JVs, but the initial loan amounts were not readily available. Initial phase investment in the first half dozen or so projects was said to be around $4mn.
Iran Press News Agency reported that one of the newly struck agreements included a “technology and industrial town” that would be situated near the city of Ardabil in Iran.
Meanwhile, Russian Railways and Azerbaijan Railways signed a cooperation agreement on boosting transport links in May last year, partly by using mutual electronic document management and cargo tracking facilities to make services more efficient.
Two months previously, Iran and Azerbaijan announced the inauguration of a new railway connecting the cities of Rasht and Qazvin in northwest Iran. Officials at the time said that within the next 12-18 months a rail connection to Astara would be finished to form a Qazvin-Rasht-Astara route. The 164-kilometre link is to handle around 2.5mn passengers annually as well as more than 7mn tonnes of cargo. Funding for the infrastructure came from a joint fund, with Iran and Azerbaijan each committing $500mn.
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