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Armenia on Wednesday pointedly refused to comment on possible implications of tougher international sanctions against Iran for its close political and especially economic relationship with the Islamic Republic.


The Armenian Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL that it will make no statements on the sensitive subject for the time being.

The U.N. Security Council was set to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program the West suspects is aimed at developing the means to build atom bombs.

According to Reuters news agency, a corresponding draft resolution worked out by Western powers, Russia and China, calls for measures against new Iranian banks abroad if a connection to the nuclear or missile programs is suspected, as well as vigilance over transactions with any Iranian bank, including the central bank.

It also would expand a U.N. arms embargo against Tehran and blacklist three entities controlled by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and 15 belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In addition to the draft resolution is a list of 40 companies to be added to an existing U.N. blacklist of firms whose assets around the world are to be frozen on suspicion of aiding Iran's nuclear or missile programs.

It was not immediately clear if any of those companies are involved in multimillion-dollar Armenian-Iranian commercial projects planned or already implemented by the two governments. Those include the planned construction of a pipeline to deliver Iranian petrol to Armenia, a railway linking the two neighboring nations, and a big hydro-electric station on the Arax river marking their border.

The Armenian and Iranian governments reported further progress towards the implementation of these ambitious projects after a January meeting in Yerevan of a joint commission on bilateral economic cooperation. Whether or not that will be somehow affected by the impending the U.N. resolution remains to be seen.

Aram Safarian, a pro-government lawmaker who had worked at the Armenian Embassy in Tehran in the 1990s, was sanguine about the sanctions’ impact on Armenian-Iranian ties, saying that Iran’s nuclear program is “absolutely irrelevant” to Armenia. “I don’t think that problems created by other countries will reflect on our relations,” he told RFE/RL.

“But we should closely monitor the situation to understand whether the toughening of sanctions will mean a trade embargo,” said Safarian.

“The sanctions will have a negative impact on the economic situation in Armenia and limit individual and business contacts between Armenia and Iran,” disagreed Ruben Mehrabian, an analyst with the Armenian Central for Political and International Studies. “The sanctions will also significantly limit Iran’s influence in our region, which will automatically strengthen Turkey and Azerbaijan.”

Iran -- Presidents Serzh Sarkisian (L) of Armenia and Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran meet in Tehran on 13Apr2009
The U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, Marie Yovanovitch, reportedly stated last week that the new sanctions against the Islamic Republic will affect Armenia as well. But she did not specify what that impact is likely to be.

U.S. diplomats have occasionally voiced unease over successive Armenian governments’ policy of deepening ties with Tehran, which results, in large measure, from Iran’s status as one of landlocked Armenia’s two conduits to the outside world.

In 2007, for example, the then U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey, publicly warned that those ties might run counter to existing international sanctions imposed on Tehran. “We have expressed our concerns to the government of Armenia on all levels,” Godfrey said at the time.

The authorities in Yerevan have said argued all along that Armenian-Iranian cooperation does not cover defense or atomic energy and therefore poses no threat to third countries.

The authorities as well as virtually all major Armenian political forces regard Iran as a natural ally in their country’s bitter disputes with Azerbaijan and Turkey. President Serzh Sarkisian described it as “a reliable partner and a country with a pivotal significance in the region” during talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Yerevan earlier this year.

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