President Serzh Sarkisian phoned his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the weekend to discuss ways of boosting economic relations between their countries following the lifting of international sanctions against Iran.
Rouhani was reported to call for Tehran and Yerevan to capitalize on the sanctions relief and reaffirm his government’s commitment to closer cooperation with Armenia. He also said that the Islamic Republic’s warm rapport with its Christian neighbor should serve as a “perfect example” to the rest of the world.
“The presidents exchanged views on new opportunities for further developing bilateral ties in the light of the implementation of recent agreements on Iran’s nuclear program,” Sarkisian’s office said in a statement on the phone call. “They also discussed the positive impact of these developments, which will strengthen regional security and stability.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran and Armenia should exploit all available possibilities for reinvigorating bilateral relations,” the Iranian Mehr news agency quoted Rouhani as telling Sarkisian. “In the post-sanction era, the path to increased economic collaboration has become clear,” he said.
Armenia was quick to welcome both Iran’s July 2015 deal with world powers on its controversial nuclear program and the resulting lifting earlier this month of the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic. Senior Armenian officials said the landmark deal will speed up the implementation of Armenian-Iranian energy projects regarded as strategically important by Yerevan.
In August, the two neighboring states signed a final agreement on the construction of a new power transmission line which is due to significantly boost exports of Armenian electricity to Iran. The construction reportedly began later in 2015.
Also, Armenian Energy and Natural Minister Yervand Zakharian said in July that greater oil revenues and the unfreezing of its assets in the U.S. and the EU should enable Iran to finance the construction of a major hydroelectric plant on the Armenian-Iranian border. The $350 million project has for years been stalled due to a lack of funding and serious restrictions on Armenian banking operations with Iran.
It is not clear whether Rouhani and Sarkisian went into details of these projects. Official Iranian and Armenian sources said only that the two men stressed the importance of implementing Armenian-Iranian economic agreements.
The energy projects were high on the agenda of Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri’s October 2015 visit to Yerevan. An Iranian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation also discussed them when it met in the Armenian capital in December. The meeting was co-chaired by Zakharian and Iran’s Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian.
According to Mehr, Rouhani also said that the two sides should “spare no effort in connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea.” It was an apparent reference to an extremely ambitious project to build a railway running from Armenia and Iran.
Yerevan has so far failed to raise an estimated $3 billion needed for building the 305-kilometer-long Armenian section of the railway. But it is gradually upgrading Armenia’s main highways stretching more than 550 kilometers to Georgia and Iran, in an effort to facilitate the landlocked country’s simultaneous access to Persian Gulf and Black Sea ports.
The North-South transport project worth more than $1 billion is also designed to enable Iran to use Armenian and Georgian territory for large-scale freight shipments to and from Europe.