Iran’s Emergence as International Transportation Hub
Iran has access to landlocked countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus to its north, over land borders and the Caspian Sea. To its south, the Islamic Republic is connected to international waters through the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.
The country’s unique location makes it “an ideal transit hub—both in terms of cost and time efficiency,” noted a recent article on Al-Monitor, a website on news and commentary from the Middle East.
Iran is also located on several international corridors including the ancient Silk Road, now a key to China’s transportation links to the Middle East and Europe. Since 2013, the number of international flights crossing Iranian air space has tripled and the volume of goods on Iran’s railways has doubled. Iran is now seeking to diversify its transit routes, especially to Europe and especially since a turmoil-plagued Turkey has long been the pipeline for Iranian goods reaching Europe. Iran’s relations with Turkey have deteriorated in recent years and there have been measures taken by both sides to impede bilateral trade and transportation. There have also frequent Turkish border closures, thanks to fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Given all these problems, Iran has revived a plan to connect to Europe with a new multimodal route. The Persian Gulf-Black Sea corridor involves road, rail and sea transportation. It begins from the Persian Gulf in the south stretches to the country’s northern borders and then transits Armenia and Azerbaijan before it reaches the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi on the Black Sea. Bulgarian ports also play a role, handling roll-on/roll-off ships used to get trucks to Greece.
“Indeed, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria,and Greece,” the article noted recently agreed on a draft plan to press ahead with the project, which is expected to be finalized by the end of 2016.”
For the Europeans, the route provides access to the Persian Gulf and shorter routs to the Indian and Pacific oceans.
An Iranian official said that Romania requested to join the corridor and that other European, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean countries are also expected to join. The corridor “is not meant to replace the trans-Turkish route to Europe,” the article noted, but to “provide the country with an additional route.”
Likewise, the Iranians believe that the new corridor “would further increase Iran’s transit importance and pave the ground for greater foreign investments in the country’s transportation infrastructures.”