The brewing rapprochement between the United States and Iran, signified by the Geneva nuclear deal signed in January, seems likely to scramble American strategic priorities in the South Caucasus, especially for Azerbaijan.
In recent years, the United States deemphasized democratization in its dealings with Azerbaijan on account of Baku’s strategic position as Iran’s northern neighbour, a position that made it a key cog in the West’s containment policy against Tehran. But now that the United States — along with other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany – are taking the first steps toward re-establishing a working relationship with Iran, the justification for Washington’s tolerance of Baku rights abuses is starting to recede.
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The Joint Action Plan, also known as the Geneva interim agreement, is designed to roll back aspects of Iran’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. This deal is seen as a stepping stone to a comprehensive pact that ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Prior to reaching agreement, the nuclear standoff had prompted increasingly tight US-led sanctions against Iran, and raised the prospects of military action.
If developments now unfold as envisioned, the regional order in the Middle East and Caspian Basin could turn upside down. Diplomatic normalization would certainly change the region’s existing energy-export calculus. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the ensuing diplomatic break with Tehran, the exclusion of Iran from regional security plans and energy-related projects has been a