By Emil Danielyan
A senior Iraqi diplomat chided the Armenian government on Friday for being too slow in developing economic cooperation with his country.
“There are numerous business opportunities in Iraq,” said Baghdad’s Charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Abbas al-Badri. “I am surprised and disheartened that Armenia is not using them.”
Meeting with senior lawmakers at the Armenian parliament, al-Badri said Armenia could draw substantial benefits from its participation in the UN’s “Oil for Food” program. But the signing of an agreement paving the way supplies of cheap Iraqi oil to Armenia was postponed recently by official Yerevan for unknown reasons, he claimed.
“All the opportunities for cooperation between our nations are in place, but we believe it needs a more high-level state support,” the envoy said. “Perhaps you should study the example of other states to see how they deal with and strengthen their ties with Iraq.”
But an Armenian foreign ministry official present at the meeting strongly disagreed with al-Badri’s complaints, saying that Yerevan has stepped up cooperation with the regime of President Saddam Hussein since 2000. Anahit Tovmasian, who works at the ministry’s Middle East desk, pointed to the opening last February of an Armenian embassy in Baghdad and several visits to Iraq by various Armenian delegations over the past year. “A year and a half is too short a period for developing bilateral relations,” Tovmasian argued.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian traveled to Iraq in late February at the head of a 75-strong delegation of government officials, lawmakers and businessmen on an official visit which he said laid the groundwork for close commercial links between the two states. Oskanian discussed, among other matters, Armenia’s involvement in the “Oil for Food” program with Hussein and other Iraqi leaders. He said after the trip that Yerevan hopes that crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iraq shortly after its invasion of Kuwait will eventually be lifted by the UN.
Armenian government officials voiced hope at the time that they will win lucrative commercial contracts in the Iraqi energy sector, battered by the 1991 Gulf War and the sanctions regime. Local manufacturers also showed interest in Iraq in a bid to find export markets.