By Monocle
on January 20, 2011 in

Monocolumn: A Case Of Opposites Attract For Georgia And Iran

Just two years ago, a visit by the Iranian president to this outpost in the South Caucasus would have been unthinkable. But the idea is now being seriously discussed, as one of the more surprising bilateral partnerships in the region begins to blossom.

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Georgian capital Tbilisi this year, he might feel somewhat uncomfortable as his motorcade speeds down the main road from the airport to the city centre – it’s called George W Bush Street. Named after the US president who gave financial and moral support to Mikheil Saakashvili’s 2003 Rose Revolution, the road name symbolises Georgia’s subsequent pro-western and pro-Nato political trajectory.

Just two years ago, a visit by the Iranian president to this outpost in the South Caucasus would have been unthinkable. But the idea is now being seriously discussed, as one of the more surprising bilateral partnerships in the region begins to blossom.

Already last year, the Iranian foreign minister visited Georgia twice, signing a range of trade agreements. The Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said in November that bilateral trade was up 63 per cent in the past year, while the number of Iranian tourists grew by 173 per cent. That figure should boom even further next week when a visa-waiver agreement comes in to effect on 26 January: citizens of the two countries will be allowed bilateral visa-free travel.

Tbilisi hopes that lifting the visa requirements will stimulate a huge wave of Iranian tourists to the country, especially to the Black Sea resort of Batumi. Iran has recently opened a consulate in the city, and Saakashvili wants to turn it into the region’s biggest tourist hub. Direct flights between Tbilisi and Tehran have also been initiated for the first time in over a decade, as well as flights from the Iranian capital to Batumi. The Iranian foreign minister has also spoken about developing a new transit route from the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, via Iran, Armenia and Georgia.

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