The easing of international sanctions against Iran would give a major boost to the Islamic Republic’s economic ties with neighboring Armenia, the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan said over the weekend.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Mohammad Reisi also indicated that Tehran could offer to supply natural gas to Armenia on new, more beneficial terms.
“Relations with neighbors are a priority in Iran’s foreign policy,” said Reisi. “Those strict sanctions have been regarded as one of the obstacles to developing economic ties. I can say for certain that after the elimination of that obstacle our economic relations will deepen further.”
Iran and six world powers reached last November an interim agreement to end a decade-long dispute over the controversial Iranian nuclear program. Tehran secured modest relief from the sanctions in return for a pledge to suspend uranium enrichment, which the United States and other Western powers believe is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.
Representatives of the two sides are due to meet in Vienna on Tuesday to try build on the deal and work out a final settlement that would pave the way for the abolition of the severe sanctions.
Reisi stood by his earlier statements that the sanctions are the reason why the planned construction of a big hydroelectric plant on the Arax river marking the Armenian-Iranian border has been repeatedly delayed. He pointed to serious restrictions imposed by the Armenian authorities on cash operations between local and Iranian banks.
“We are making efforts to ensure that those obstacles are eliminated and construction starts,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There are banking problems. I hope that they are solved and construction gets underway in the Iranian New Year, which starts on March 21.”
The Armenian and Iranian government officially announced the launch of the $330 million energy project at a ground-breaking ceremony in November 2012 that was attended President Serzh Sarkisian. However, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian acknowledged in December 2013 that in fact work on the 130 megawatt facility has still not started. He gave no reasons for the delay.
Movsisian and Iran’s new Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian met twice, in Tehran and Yerevan, in the space of two weeks last November. Few details of their talks were made public.
According to Reisi, the implementation of the Arax project will be high on the agenda of the next meeting of an Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation. It is due to take place in Tehran in May.
The envoy said that the commission could also discuss the possibility of increasing Iranian gas supplies to Armenia. Asked whether the Iranian side could offer Yerevan more favorable terms, he said, “That’s possible. It depends on negotiations.”
In December, Reisi publicly questioned Armenian government claims that Armenia buys the bulk of its natural gas from Russia because it is much cheaper than Iranian gas. He also insisted that Yerevan has never sought to officially negotiate with Tehran over more large-scale gas supplies.
The Iranian diplomat’s claims were denied by Movsisian but seized upon by Armenian opposition politicians and other government critics accusing the Sarkisian administration of doing nothing to ease Armenia’s heavy dependence on Russia for energy.